Meet the ABGC’s two new Queensland directors: Costas General Manager Banana Category Ben Franklin and Tablelands and Lakeland grower Paul Inderbitzin.
Tell us about your background in bananas.
I started in the fresh produce industry as a teenager working part time in the Adelaide Produce Markets. I was born and grew up in Adelaide up and moved to North Queensland in 1997 with Chiquita Brands South Pacific to work in the banana industry.
And your role with Costas
I’ve worked in my current role since 2010 – I have responsibility for our national banana category encompassing both our growing operations and marketing business. Having a strong production or operations focus is very important for our business and I have therefore had to learn a lot in the past five years.
What NQ banana operations does Costas have?
We have three North Queensland farms – two in Tully and one in Walkamin on the Atherton Tablelands. We’ve been operating the Tully farms since the late 90s and Walkamin since 2011 where we grow both Cavendish and Lady Finger varieties.
What do you think are some of the major issues for bananas?
The biggest issue is the threat of Panama TR4. More broadly, the threat of disease pressure in many growing regions should be our industry’s highest priority. We also need to make sure we do not lose sight of the importance of continuing to grow our product in a responsible and sustainable manner and make further improvements on this where possible.
And upcoming opportunities?
We all have a great product and all Australians love to eat the humble banana. Through a variety of circumstances our industry has changed rapidly in recent times. As long as we embrace the need to move with these changes and not against them I believe there will continue to be great opportunities in bananas for all industry participants.
Why did you nominate for the ABGC Board?
I feel I have plenty to offer the industry in the future. I hope I can bring some of my diverse experiences in both bananas and the broader fruit and vegetable industry to the Board and look forward to doing the best I can for the industry.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I’m a third generation farmer. Grew up on the dairy farm at Malanda and spent my holidays between there, the macadamia farm in Atherton and Lakeland. Bananas in Lakeland started in 1993 when the family business was a partnership between grandad Louis, Peter and my dad Tom.
And your farms
I farm with my brother Martin and parents Tom and Trish. Our business is spread between the macadamia farm, where we recently planted blueberries, and the Lakeland farm where we have 50ha bananas and 200ha of cropping country. In a normal year our cropping operation is predominantly seed production – sorghum, sunflower and Lablab.
Tell us about banana farming in Lakeland
I can’t really comment too much on the early days other than to say that bitumen roads are a blessing! There’s no doubt that growing bananas in the Lakeland area requires a certain amount of adaptation to the hot, dry conditions. Lakeland’s challenges and opportunities will always be water. Everything hinges on it. There’s 14,000ha of good agricultural land available for cropping/horticulture in the area but there isn’t enough water. We need a more favourable government to again allow the building of more dams. The argument that dams have a negative environmental effect in this area is false.
Tell us about your studies as the banana industry Nuffield Scholar
The biggest thing I came away with is the focus on fruit quality. You have to spend the money protecting the bunch out in the field and the rest of production and its efficiencies will follow. The other thing is understanding your supply chain all the way to the consumer. Growers have to know who is handling their produce and what value they add.
What are some of the major issues for bananas?
Given the latest biosecurity incursions it is clear to me that the industry needs to be in the driver’s seat for variety selections. The other option is further commercial business investment in this space, potentially resulting in further supply consolidation.
And the opportunities?
Our industry has an epic marketing strategy and it is executed well. I would love to see more money allocated to it. Healthy consumer demand will always result in strong returns. For growers to endure, we want Australian consumers to love Australian bananas and buy more of them.
Why did you nominate for the ABGC Board?
The banana industry gave me a great opportunity to do a Nuffield scholarship and I am humbled. This is now my chance to give back to the industry and I hope I can add value on the Board to an already great team.