New information about the New South Wales banana industry is emerging as part of survey research. Rhyll Cronin reports.
It’s taken dozens of phone calls, farm visits and mouse clicks but slowly an up-to-date picture of the NSW banana industry is emerging.
NSW Banana Industry Development Officer (IDO) Matt Weinert is gathering the information and is excited by what’s come to light so far.
He is now calling for more survey responses to make sure he completes the picture – particularly about banana growing in the State’s most northerly region, Tweed Brunswick.
“This grower survey is the first in-depth look into the NSW industry in more than a decade,” Matt said.
“The process of getting in touch with growers and asking about them and their farms is invaluable in gaining a better understanding of what can be done to maximise the industry’s potential.”
The survey is building a picture based on grower demographics and information on farm sizes, varieties grown and growing practices.
So far, responses have been analysed from more than 50 growers in three regions – the two most southerly growing regions of Nambucca and Coffs Harbour/Woolgoolga on the Mid North Coast, as well as the Far North region of Richmond, near Lismore.
However, Matt is still working to contact growers in the Tweed Brunswick region, centered on growing areas including Murwillumbah and the Tweed Valley. “The results I’ve compiled so far are showing some interesting and encouraging trends for the industry,” Matt said.
“Although there has been significant decline over past years in the industry due to banana growers swapping to other crops, land being lost to urban encroachment and growers retiring from the industry there are signs that the situation is stabilising.
“There are young growers moving into the industry and new plantings, particularly alternative varieties.”
Matt said it was important for as many growers as possible to participate to gain the most accurate view of the industry. The survey can be done by phone, face-to-face or online. The results will help direct future projects assisting the industry.
As an incentive, a soil nutrient test is being offered to one grower in each of the four NSW growing regions. Those who respond online are in the running for one full leaf nutrient analysis.
For more information, growers can contact Matt on 0438 644 136.
“I’m finding that the most effective way to contact growers for the survey is after hours by phone. It only takes about ten minutes for growers to complete the survey and I can call whenever is convenient.”
The following is a snapshot of some of the information gathered so far.
There were seven growers aged under 40 (12 per cent), 36 aged between 40 and 60 (62 per cent) and 15 aged over 60 (26 per cent).
There were three female growers from the 58 growers (5 per cent) who responded to this question. However, almost half of the businesses surveyed were a husband-and-wife partnership and 10 others were family partnerships, indicating that the women were involved.
Varieties and farm sizes
Lady Fingers and Ducasse are significant varieties in the Mid North Coast growing regions where there is no, or lower incidence of Panama Race 1.
Matt said Race 1 had made limited inroads into the Coffs/Woolgoolga region and there were no recorded cases in the Nambucca area.
Race 1 is widespread in the Richmond area, where Cavendish is the predominant variety. Survey information from the Tweed area will provide details of what varieties are being grown in a region where Race 1 is also widespread.
Many growers were growing more than one variety, some two or three and one had four. Production statistics have been compiled but are indicative only as many surveyed growers were unsure of exact figures. Estimates indicated average yield varied from 12 tonnes per hectare in the Nambucca region, followed by 14 tonnes per hectare in the Richmond and 15.9 tonnes per hectare in the Coffs Harbour/ Woolgoolga region.
Banana farms operated by surveyed growers support 143.6 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs in the three completed regions. The majority of businesses use mainly family labour with 34.1 FTE jobs created for workers from outside of the family business.
While there has been a significant decline in growers over the past 15 years, most of the remaining growers surveyed so far indicate that they intend to maintain or increase their plantings. In the Coffs/Woolgoolga and Nambucca regions the number of growers intending to increase plantings outweighed the number thinking of downsizing. These results indicate growers, and particularly younger growers, do see a future in the industry.
Access to irrigation offers growers the opportunities to increase productivity, particularly during periods of little rain, and to extend supply throughout the year. Irrigation also offers the potential for better nutrient use efficiency, particularly through fertigation. The research so far has found that most growers don’t irrigate.
Growers in all three regions identified banana weevil borer as the major productivity constraint.
Next were weather events including east coast lows, hail storms, severe winds and drought.
Others were a range of pests, apart from weevil borers, disease and input costs such as fertilisers, pest and disease management chemicals, including herbicides, and props.
Solutions have, or will be, investigated by the NSW IDO project. North Queensland banana research can also assist with cyclone preparedness and recovery and pests such as thrips, mites, scab moth and nematodes.