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Aloha! to Hawaiian Bananas

Freshly harvested bananas from Hawaii may soon begin reappearing in mainland markets thanks to extensive research by ARS scientists in Hilo, Hawaii.

Hawaii's banana growers haven't shipped the fruit to the mainland since 1984. That's when ethylene dibromide gas, used to disinfest bananas and other fruits of any hitchhiking fruit flies, was banned. But now ARS experiments demonstrate conditions for safely shipping the bananas without need for disinfestation treatment.

Mediterranean and oriental fruit flies, already established in Hawaii, are a constant threat to mainland agriculture. They can attack more than 200 different fruits and vegetables.

In laboratory and outdoor experiments, ARS entomologist John W. Armstrong and colleagues showed that the bananas won't harbor these pests if shipped full-size, green-skinned, and without cuts or punctures.

Armstrong and co-workers did the work at ARS' U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo.

Besides helping Hawaiian growers resume shipments to the U.S. mainland, the ARS studies are helping them capture sales in new foreign markets such as Japan.

The scientists used laboratory-reared medflies and oriental fruit flies and tested thousands of bananas from nearly two dozen plantations throughout the state.

"Our tests," says Armstrong, "showed that risk of infestation by the oriental fruit fly and medflies is negligible under normal commercial conditions." As a result, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service approved new, workable regulations for shipping the bananas.

The varieties tested included three different kinds of the familiar Cavendish-type banana, as well as the specialty Hawaiian apple banana, which has a very sweet, custardlike flavor. Says Armstrong, "This is a superb banana for niche markets on the mainland or in foreign countries."

Collaborators in the experiments included the University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service and the Hawaii Banana Industry Association. Banana growers in Hawaii produced about 21 million pounds of bananas, worth about $7 million, in 1998.

The United States annually imports more than 8 billion pounds of bananas. They are good sources of potassium, vitamin C, and fiber.—By Marcia Wood, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.

John W. Armstrong is at the USDA-ARS U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center, Stainback Hwy., P.O. Box 4459, Hilo, HI 96720; phone (808) 959-4336, fax (808) 959-4323.

"Aloha! to Hawaiian Bananas" was published in the September 1999 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

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