Champion effort gets research working

Stewart Lindsay, a banana scientist at South Johnstone in North Queensland, was one of the industry champions who received an Award Of Honour at this year’s Australian Banana Industry Congress. Stewart answers our ten questions.

Tell us what got you interested in the banana industry
I grew up on a small family banana farm in the Caboolture/Wamuran district of south-east Queensland and we helped out on the farm, particularly during school holidays. When I started working with DAF (then the Department of Primary Industries) I moved to the Granite Belt and those five years are the only time I have not been around bananas.
Where did you do your training, both academic and in the field?
I studied at the Queensland Agricultural College at Gatton before it became a campus of the University of Queensland. Moving into the role of extension officer meant a lot of on-the-job training in communication and adult education techniques, including some TAFE courses.
Tell us what happens on a good day in banana research? And on a not-so-good day?
On a good day you can help someone find a workable solution to a problem or gain an insight into an issue or problem. For an extension officer it’s often about being able to realise the significance of some trial results so you can communicate the key message. There are plenty of good days.
On a not-so-good day you spend a lot of time trying to juggle a lot of different activities without ever getting to do a really thorough job on any of them. The aftermath of natural disasters like cyclones and storms are not good days either.
How does your work help the industry and tell us about a breakthrough moment you’ve had on a project.
My role is about trying to bridge the gap between the implications of research trial results and the reality of banana growers and others making changes in their production and marketing system so the whole system benefits. A key requirement for this is getting to know the industry and its systems, especially the growers and other people in the industry.
Any breakthrough moments were always as part of a project team. One was getting the minor-use permit approved for ethephon injection for nurse-suckering, because it took a lot of trial work and is so important for cyclone recovery and managing fruit supply.
What’s one of your favourite things about working in the banana industry?
The banana industry is dynamic and innovative so there is always something changing or developing. It’s never boring, even after 22 years. The people in the industry are another favourite – some of the best people you will ever run into. Living in a beautiful part of the world in FNQ is also on the list of favourites.
When you tell people your work includes banana research, what do they usually ask about?
Lately it’s been about Panama disease, but a whole range of things, particularly about different varieties. My partner once asked me if Sugar bananas and Lady Fingers were the same thing, something which she says she really regretted afterwards. She thought it was a yes/no answer.
What’s one of the things most people don’t know about bananas?
Banana fruit have a bend because of gravity. Their growth is described as being negatively geotropic, which means that they bend in the opposite direction to the gravitational force.
From a science perspective, what’s a current hot topic about banana production?
Panama disease is the hot topic in Australia and internationally. A lot of businesses and research agencies across the world in bananas are keenly watching the situation in Australia to see how we manage the recent incursion. They see Australia as the country most likely to put best practice on-farm biosecurity in place.
How do you like your bananas – fresh or cooked, what’s your favourite banana recipe and how often do you make it?
I have been lucky enough to travel overseas in this role and that has been a real eye-opener to the range of varieties and uses for bananas. I eat bananas fresh and cooked and rate Gros Michel and Hom Thong Mokho as the best bananas I have eaten fresh.
A favourite combination is a banana, bacon and cheese open grill sandwich. You can use the same combination as a topping on a fish fillet too.
When you’ve got time off, what are some of your favourite pastimes?
Spending time with my partner and our teenage children at their sports, camping, fishing or on a road trip holiday. Now that I’m older, I can openly admit to enjoying bird-watching. It’s not cool but there it is.