In his eight years as Australian Banana Growers’ Council Yellow Sigatoka Liaison Officer, Louis Lardi says he’s traversed over 300,000km by road, received just one speeding ticket, cracked two windscreens and formed some lifelong friendships, destined to stand the test of time.
As he eyes retirement from his ABGC role, he sat down to talk about the highlights, the lower lights and the new chapters that lie ahead.
By Sonia Campbell
There are a few things about Louis Lardi you can be certain of.
He’s a devoted family man, he’s absolutely passionate about the banana industry and he’s a genuine straight shooter. In his own words – ‘I like to tell it how it is’.
They are all traits that have served him well in his role as North Queensland-based Yellow Sigatoka Liaison Officer for ABGC. A role he will step away from at the end of this year, leaving big shoes to fill for his eventual replacement.
“I will definitely miss the job. It’s been a big part of my life really. A great part of my life. But it’s time for me to go.”
He’s served in the role since February 2010.
His job entails visiting all 240 banana farms from Rollingstone in the south, to Cooktown and Hopevale in the north, and west to Dimbulah, checking each
property twice a year for Sigatoka leaf spot and other fungal diseases.
Travelling up to 800km per week, it hasn’t always been the easiest of jobs. He admits it has had its challenges, particularly when he first started and leaf
spot was an industry problem.
“When I first began there was a very big issue with leaf spot. Ninety-five per cent of growers I visited were really good, but yes there has been challenges.”
“I give the same information to all growers, but getting through to some is a big challenge. If they listen to what I have to say, they will not have an issue
with leaf spot. The key was probably getting growers to know that I’m there to help them, not to hinder them.”
“And that’s the upside of the job, I’m still involved in the industry, an industry that I love. And, I’m helping the industry. I do believe I’ve helped get benefits for the industry with this job.”
His introduction to the banana industry began in 1980 when he began work on a banana farm co-owned by industry pioneer Mort Johnston after marrying his wife Patricia, who he met while living in Brisbane.
He was born into a farming family – his father grew cane at Tully – but his early working career included an apprenticeship as a fitter and turner and a three-year stint playing professional rugby league in the UK.
Eventually he ended up back on the family farm and planted his first banana crop in 1990.
“I quite enjoyed it when I was working for Mort and I thought there was an opportunity there to become a farmer, which I thought was in my blood.
“I had three young children and by this time I needed steady employment to make sure we could pay our way.”
After 18 years growing bananas Louis decided to lease the family farm and he applied for the job with ABGC.
A job created after the compulsory levy funding DPI leaf spot officers had ended and leaf spot became an issue of concern.
“The best part of the job is interaction with the growers, being involved in the industry and helping the industry. I really enjoy when I go to the Tablelands twice a year for the week and get to catch up with growers that have become friends. I’ve formed some very good relationships.”
“The hardest time in my job was after Cyclone Yasi, when I was doing industry recovery work. It was really hard talking to growers, they were devastated
and the majority of them where not in a good place.”
Outside of work, Louis is a motor cycle enthusiast and has trekked across America and Europe by bike – each time proudly sporting his ABGC shirt and Australian Bananas cap.
The devoted dad and grandfather of five says it’s now time to hang up his banana hat to concentrate on his two greatest loves – family and travel.
“One thing on my bucket list is the horizontal waterfalls in Western Australia. I plan to travel across Australia and possibly another motorbike tour of Europe.”
“I have five grandchildren and one on the way and there are things I want to do with my life and going to work is not one of them,” he says with a laugh.