By Tegan Kukulies, DAF
Over the past year the young banana growers which form the NextGen group have been looking to other horticultural industries and manufacturing to draw inspiration and drive innovation in their businesses. While visiting these different operations it has become quickly became evident that we could learn from other industries as they also deal with similar issues such as labour efficiency, packing shed productivity, and environmental impacts.
Interest in looking at different production systems was first sparked when the group decided to visit production in their ‘own backyard’, being coffee, blueberries and papaya on the Tablelands.
Late last year some of the NextGen group travelled to the Bowen/Gumlu area to see how large operations grow, harvest and pack melons and vegetables and also talk to an innovative young mango grower. Growers who attended the trip were impressed with how high-tech and automated the shed systems were. They were also interested in the mechanised harvesting of some crops.
Innisfail grower Matt Abbott said “I was impressed by the state-of-the art technology and level of automation implemented in the tomato packing shed. The shed had two computerised colour grading systems that automatically graded each tomato on colour and size.”
Prior to the commencement of the recent Australian Banana Industry Congress in Sydney there was interest from growers to use the trip to again broaden their knowledge horizons of other industries. The four stop tour included visits to Orora’s Botany Paper Mill, The Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney, a pre-packaging facility owned by integrated business Hydro Produce and Integrated Plastics’ extrusion plant.
Lakeland grower Paul Inderbitzin said “I really enjoyed seeing the overall process of cardboard recycling at the Orora’s paper mill and was impressed that they use 100 per cent recycled material.
Paul was also impressed with the visit to Hydro produce, noting the businesses focus on delivering quality product to customers.
Tablelands grower Andrew Serra commented on that fact that “the overall challenges that you face as a business are the same – such as energy savings…”
“I was also impressed to see the future of robotics and tech in bananas and felt that targeted work in bananas would be interesting,” Andrew said.
Other growers agreed it would be good to establish closer relationships with people working in the tech space to start more banana specific work.
Colin Singh, a grower from Cudgen in New South Wales commented on how interesting it was to see and understand how bunch covers were made at the plastic extrusion plant.
The NextGen group would sincerely like to thank all the businesses and people who have generously given up their time to facilitate the group’s visits. The NextGen banana grower’s initiative continues to be a strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Banana Fund. It is part of the National Banana Development and Extension Program (BA16007), funded by Hort Innovation using the banana research and development levy with co-investment from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) and contributions from the Australian Government.
NextGen encourages young growers to become more involved in the future of the banana industry and inspires them to ‘think outside the box’ and try different practices on their farms. Growers who would like to get involved in the group should contact Tegan Kukulies from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries on (07) 4220 4152.