Changing of the banana guard

Louis Lardi is hanging up his yellow hat.
Louis Lardi is hanging up his yellow hat.

One of the banana industry’s most recognisable faces is retiring this week, after eight years and more than 300,000 kilometres spent traversing North Queensland farms.

Australian Banana Growers’ Council Yellow Sigatoka Liaison Officer, Louis Lardi, will hang up his yellow banana hat after getting his first taste of the industry more than three decades ago.

He worked under industry pioneer Mort Johnston, later went on to grow his own banana crop for 17 years, and joined the ABGC team in February 2010.

Since then, he’s visited 240 farms in North Queensland twice a year (except the Cyclone Yasi year) to inspect for Sigatoka leaf spot and other banana diseases.

“The best part of the job is interaction with the growers, being involved in bananas and helping the industry,” he said.

“I really enjoyed visiting all farms twice a year and catching up with growers who have become friends. I’ve formed some very good relationships.”

Mr Lardi said he will miss being part of an industry he’s so passionate about.

“But I have five grandchildren and one on the way. There are things I want to do with my life and going to work is not one of them,” he laughed.

ABGC’s CEO Jim Pekin said Louis Lardi’s contribution to the industry was immense.

“Louis always went the extra mile for the industry, not just with Leaf Spot, but with assisting growers however he could, for example in Cyclone Yasi recovery in 2011.

“He was also a great assistance to me and his other colleagues.”

Carl Rickson, ABGC’s new Plant Health Officer, knows he has big shoes to fill.

“But I’m going to give it a good crack and look forward to the challenge,” he said.

Mr Rickson’s previous role was as a team leader for the Panama TR4 biosecurity program.

“I’ve visited nearly all growers in North Queensland a few times, or ten! I’ve built up a good rapport with them over the years, which I am thankful for, as it’s made my transition to ABGC so much easier.”

He’s now looking forward to building on those relationships and helping growers with their pest and disease issues.

Mr Pekin noted Carl Rickson’s job was threefold: “He’ll continue to do pest and disease inspections on all NQ farms, inform growers on the symptoms of important endemic and exotic diseases, disease management, and on biosecurity best management practices, and conduct disease data analysis, mapping and reporting.

“His role does not include providing banana growing or agronomic advice.”