Protecting Banana Plants from Fusarium: A Treatment Solution

banana plantation

Learn how Filtersafe is protecting the livelihood of millions of people and providing food security.

What is Fusarium Wilt

banana plantationBananas are a hugely important crop – 400 million people worldwide rely on bananas for a significant portion of their daily calories or as their source of income. This is why the fungus fusarium can have such tragic results if it makes its way to a banana field – once a field is infected, the entirety of the crop is damaged and essentially the field can never be reused because the disease can stay in the soil for as long as 50 years. The damage is so thorough and pervasive that it has been used to destroy drug crops in Colombia, as it not only kills the crop, but stays in the soil and prevents replanting for years.

Fusarium can be found naturally occurring in soils worldwide – from tropical rainforest to deserts to arctic tundra. The fungus causes the disease Fusarium wilt, also known as Panama disease. Despite its ubiquitous nature, the pathogen is only problematic when it makes its way to farms. This is what happened in the 1950s, when Fusarium contaminated banana farms in Central America, causing the Gros Michel species of banana to almost go extinct.

Though the damage is most severe for banana plants, fusarium can also cause damage to tomatoes, beans, sweet potatoes and others. The spread of Fusarium wilt disease has been felt most acutely by farmers in South East Asia, where the majority of the farms that have been impacted by the disease have been destroyed.

The Solution for Fusarium

 filtersafe installation to prevent fusariumUnlike other soil-dwelling fungi, Fusarium can’t be killed through fumigation methods, so farmers must look to other, innovative ways to protect their crops. Filtersafe, in combination with Bloom Agro, have developed a solution. In addition to occurring in the soil, fusarium can be introduced to farms through irrigation water. Since farmers in this area often divert river water to use for watering their crops, the otherwise free and plentiful water can be problematic if it isn’t properly treated before being used for irrigation. Filtersafe filters out suspended solids down to 25 microns, removing soil particles that could be harboring the disease and detritus that could impede the sterilization process. After the mechanical filtration to remove problematic organic material and other suspended solids, the filtered water goes on to be further disinfected by the Bloom Agro system.

The entire disinfection process is completed in just four steps:

  1. Prefiltration of water from source: The farmer can be using a reservoir, irrigation canal, or water directly from a river. In this step large particles and organic matter are prevented from entering the system.
  2. Mechanical filtration: Here, Filtersafe’s filter does its work, removing 98% of all substances in the water.
  3. Disinfection: The water is now treated by Bloom Agros’ special process.
  4. Contact time: Next, the water sits in a reservoir for a prescribed length of time, allowing the disinfection process to reach all organic material in the water, including the Fusarium, and rendering it inactive.

fusatrium treatment systemThe systems have already been installed in over 30 locations throughout the Philippines, successfully protecting crops and farmers. Even though there is a prefiltration step, there is still a large amount of total suspended solids (TSS) remaining in the water. The TSS is dangerous for most filters, since they cannot handle high dirt loads while filtering to such a fine degree. However, Filtersafe has engineered the only filter on the market that can safely filter incredibly ‘dirty’ water without clogging.

Multinational corporations also turn to filtration solutions to protect their industrial farms. Companies including La Frutera, Dole and Delmonte have all used our mechanical filtration to reduce the threat of fusarium to their fields and protect bananas for small farmers and consumers like you worldwide.

Product Specifications At A Glance

  • Product: Single/Compact & Multi Filters, From 3” up to 24”,
  • Filtration Degree: 25 μm
  • Flow Rate: From 60 m³/h to 1600 m³/h
  • Installation Date: 2016-2020

Benefits to Customer

  • Superb cleaning efficiency with minimal downtime using patented technology and screen design
  • Low power consumption (2 bar inlet pressure)
  • Low discharge of backwash wastewater
  • Smaller footprint compared to conventional filters

Preparing Your Ballast Water Treatment System Installation To Avoid Non-Compliance

ballast water compliant

The following article is a summary of Mark Riggio’s participation in a discussion on the topic from BWMTech 2020. You can see the summary of his discussion on best practices for ballast treatment system operators and ship owners here.

The filter is the keystone of the entire Ballast Water Treatment System (BWTS) and therefore the linchpin for the system’s success. However, the installation of a BWTS is almost always an afterthought when it comes to a ship’s design or retrofit. The smallest thing can create a barrier to proper installation, such as where a pipe is laid, so it is very important to look at the BWTS installation as far in advance as possible to prevent or remove barriers to its success.

The Source of the Problem: Installation

To provide the right filter for a ship there are many questions that need to be answered: how many tanks the ship has, their volume, power required to run the pumps, etc., However, the BWTS is typically an afterthought and something shipowners look to place on their vessels simply to meet regulations. 

If there are issues during commissioning or testing of the Ballast Water Treatment System, typically, it is because the filter was installed incorrectly, hindering its functionality. Less frequently it is due to a fundamental issue with the filter itself, and its ability to clean itself.

Recognizing the problem begins with installation, Filtersafe brought Mark in specifically because of his experience in the BWTS industry. His level of expertise and engineering knowledge in the filtration space is an asset in Filtersafe’s plan to get more guidance into customers’ hands to make sure that filters are installed properly.

Apathy Towards Non- Compliance

Compliance is a major issue, and it is a learning curve for ship owners. There needs to be buy-in from everyone involved throughout the process to ensure that the BWTS is installed properly and that compliance will be achieved.

At this point, there isn’t usually buy-in at every level because the BWTS isn’t perceived as a priority. Shipping vessels were never designed to have a water treatment plant onboard, and operators have many other things on their to-do list that are critical to the vessel’s functionality. This tension leads to the problem of how a well designed and built BWTS can end up being problematic, or not working, once it is onboard. Industries that utilize similar technology, such as drinking water treatment plants, have dozens of people operating machinery that on a boat one person is responsible for. Plus, they have much more space!

Mark shares an anecdote that is typical for onboard problems with BWTS:

During shipboard testing at a previous position, there were problems with very large organisms coming out of our discharge water that was being sampled to ensure compliance. They could not have passed through the BWTS filter, yet they were coming out of the discharge water in one port. He did some analytics and long story short, water from overboard was being allowed back through the sample port so they were sampling ocean water and not the treated water. At this point, he went and spoke with the crew to see if he could understand why this was happening. It turns out when the BWTS was in use it was setting off an alarm, which was annoying the ship workers. They discovered if they throttled the system and decreased the inlet pressure, the alarm would not bother them, but this allowed seawater to make its way up from the overboard to the sample port.

Crews know how to make systems work. Sometimes, though, what they do has unintended consequences. With this information, Mark looked to solve the nuisance alarm issue, which was easily accomplished. The core problem with the system, though was much more difficult to address because the vessel had no check valve on the outlet from the BWMS.. Despite the fact that the check valve was supposed to be there all along and was indicated on the drawings, the installer and even the commissioning engineer had failed to notice it was not actually installed. Little things that are on a drawing that does not get followed up on during installation can cause problems down the line.

Education About Environmental Impacts and Benefits

The general apathy towards proper installation occurs largely because no one is educating ship operators and installers about the environmental impacts the system has. If the staff responsible for the system’s success do not understand the benefits, they’ll lack the motivation to ensure that the is installed properly, and you’re likely to run into one of the problems previously mentioned.

On top of this, often BWTS are purchased based on price and nothing else. It can be a hard sell to a client to explain why your system is even 5% more than a competitor – but it works so much better. Purchasers are not thinking about the implications down the line if the system doesn’t work properly, they are just focused on the here and now, which is the price. Again, education can do a lot to remove that apathy. We need to explain that they are buying something not just to meet requirements, but to protect the estuaries, seas, and oceans so they can go fishing with their kids and grandkids.

As we are getting closer and closer to the mandatory installation date, there is less resistance from those on the ship about taking responsibility for making sure the system is working on board, but we cannot let that prevent us from continuing to focus on education.

Best Practices for Ballast Water Treatment System Manufacturers and Ship Owners

Best Practices for BWMS

The following article is a summary of Mark Riggio’s participation in a discussion on the topic from BWMTech 2020. You can see the summary of his discussion on ensuring the proper installation of your BWTS here.

The Ballast Water Treatment System (BWTS) is incredibly important, but at the end of the day, it is at best tangential to the functioning of the vessel itself. It’s important for the BWTS manufacturers to have a comprehensive and readable manual and ballast water management plan.

The BWTS Operations Management System (OMS) is the bible for onboard ship maintenance. Mark likes to joke that the ballast water management plan in the OMS is good creative fiction – that is, the manufacturer needs to create the fiction of what could go wrong and then decide what you can do to address that. It is very important not to put a lot of text that no one will read but practical advice as to how to address actual problems – addressing poor water conditions, component maintenance and repairs, operating outside the design limitations, etc.. The key challenge is to communicate this information in a way that the reader will be able to understand and implement while at the same time ensuring that the installer and shipyard owner have all the information they need to install the system in the best way possible.

Feedback from Shipowners: The Good and the Bad

Manufacturers do not get sufficient feedback about their systems’ operation. As manufacturers, we hear every day about the 20% of our systems that have problems, yet we don’t hear from the other 80% which are working great, or perhaps even better than anticipated. Since Mark joined Filtersafe, the company has been reaching out to customers who don’t have problems to understand why it’s going well. It could be simply that the system was installed properly and they are following the OMS, or it could be they’ve found hacks for how to operate the system in difficult situations. We are encouraging this type of feedback across the industry.

We as an industry need to be bigger than a loose collection of competitors. We have a unique opportunity during the experience-building phase to ‘fail’ – but to learn from what is going on. We just want to work together as a partner and help improve systems, make better systems so that crews can use them better and we can learn from the crew’s experience to make it easier for them and decrease the impact these systems will have on shipping. Shipowners want a black box to make the problem go away, and we will continue to reach out to ship owners to get that feedback so we can arrive at a combined solution.

Placing the Blame for Problems

There is tension between the ship owners and the manufacturers as to who is responsible if there is a problem. On the one hand, the shipowner needs to make sure the system is installed properly, on the other hand, the manufacturer is the one who knows how it is supposed to be installed. If there is a problem, who is to blame?

Installing the BWTS is just one aspect of hundreds of other jobs happening on a ship during a shipyard period and the installation does not usually get the attention and treatment it deserves. The manufacturer cannot always be there for the entirety of the installation, and while they aren’t there, decisions can be made that have a fatal consequence to the system’s functionality. At the time in the shipyard, the decisions made don’t seem like they will cause a problem later on – obviously, otherwise they wouldn’t decide as such. Ultimately, a seemingly small decision such as changing a pipe placement can turn out to be a fatal flaw in the operation of the BWTS. It’s really important that the shipyard employees have the right education so they care about the proper functioning of the BWTS and not just finding ways to cut corners and save money on installation.

Mentality and Compliance

Part of the issue is that operators have not yet had to deal with widespread compliance testing. This has meant that
industry best practice became to do the best you can, and that’s good enough.

There needs to be a new culture in place of not relying on ‘good enough’. It’s not as if you can just open your BWTS and look at the screen and see if it’s still functioning at its peak with just a visual inspection, you need to test. The problem is ship owners are hesitant to check their system to see if they have a compliance issue. They don’t want to know if their ships aren’t filtering properly because then it creates a record of non-compliance.

At the same time, the US Coast Guard would rather a ship owner test and see that they aren’t complying and continue operating on a contingency measure while trying to solve the problem. If the shipowner is documenting that he is trying to solve the problem he’ll be in better shape than if a compliance officer happens to board his ship and discover he’s non-compliant. As an industry, we have to encourage ship owners to switch to indicative testing to preemptively find a problem, rather than waiting for them to be tested and discover it. The shipowner thinks he may be saving time on testing, but at the end of the day, it’s the environment that is suffering.

Looking Towards The Future: Bottlenecks and Orders

The session ended with a discussion about ramping up production post-COVID and the anticipated bottlenecks in production and manpower for installations.
The culpability in delays gets blamed on manufacturers, but part of that problem is with forecasting and shipowners not being transparent about their own installation plans and timelines. BWTS manufacturers have had inventory building up because shipowners weren’t buying at the rate anticipated. This caused a ripple effect across industries and supply chains – since manufacturers weren’t buying parts the way they previously had, inventory was also building up at suppliers, and a number of them went out of business because they couldn’t weather the economic slowdown. Filtersafe is working to bring production of some parts in-house so that they have more control over this aspect, but it still doesn’t solve the problem. Looking at Clarkson’s data vs IMO for installations in 2020, only about 60% of shipowners installed BWTS that said they would. Where are those vessels that didn’t install and when are they going to come in and put in their orders?

At the same time, the supply chain issue isn’t just a result of COVID-19. There have been issues supply chain issues since the beginning, causing EPCs and shipyard owners to be wary of working with companies they didn’t think would be able to deliver after-sales service and support.

Filtersafe has worked to disperse the risk by creating regional supply chains. They have a manufacturing center in Israel and Hong Kong so they draw from both of those areas. Also, as they’ve seen small companies go out of business, they started to bring some aspects of small part manufacturing in house. At the end of the day, these steps will only go so far if shipowners aren’t more transparent about their true plans for installation in the coming years.