Port without bananas hard to swallow

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News,Business

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — Bananageddon would be bad news for the state port.

A fungus for years killed bananas in Southeast Asia. Then the disease, known as Panama fungus or TR4, spread to Oman and Jordan, plus an isolated farm in North Australia.

A move into Latin America, the mother lode of bananas, could set off Bananageddon, as it has been dubbed.

This was news to the state port's executive director, Jonathan Daniels, who has worked at ports for years.

"I have never heard the words banana and fungus used in the same sentence," he said. "Never. Ever."

The Sun Herald reports (http://bit.ly/1lMfv8W ) bananas represent almost 36 percent of the 2.1 million tons of cargo handled by the port in 2013, so Bananageddon would be most unwelcome.

Both Dole and Chiquita are port tenants shipping bananas from Latin America.

But the port has plenty of other cargo, including fabrics, finished goods, liner board, other green fruit and ilmenite ore. In the midst of expansion, Daniels said, the port is working to further diversify its customer base, with the recent announcement of a ship outfitting venture and a second new, non-banana tenant expected soon.

Chiquita has not responded to inquiries from the Sun Herald, but Dole assures the port -- and banana lovers -- that it is on top of the situation:

"Dole and our research institutions around the world are looking at how to develop a disease-resistant banana through crop improvement and plant breeding methods, and how to implement the use of possible safe and approved biological control measures."

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Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com

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