By Matt Weinert and Amy Spear
A local banana grower with a scientific background has taken the reins at the Duranbah trial site.
Zac McKeever, who has been growing his own bananas in the Tweed area of New South Wales for two and a half years, took over management following David Peasley’s retirement in December.
“It’s been hectic lately with the blow [winds from Cyclone Oma in late February] and getting used to the new role, but it’s all settling down now and seems to be working well,” Mr McKeever said.
“It’s a great opportunity to continue working in the banana industry.”
Mr McKeever – who began a degree Photonics and Nanoscience before deciding to something more manual – lost a couple of hundred plants on his own block in strong winds caused by Oma.
However, his efforts in holding up the bananas at the site in Duranbah meant they only lost two plants in the best bets trial.
When he’s not bracing for wild weather, work on the trial site includes general upkeep, as well as collecting growth data like bunch dates and heights with NSW DPI Industry Development Officer Matt Weinert.
“At the moment I’m bagging bunches in the Best Bets trial. These are the varieties selected by the Banana Plant Protection Program that showed superior disease resistance,” Mr McKeever explained.
“These varieties are ready to undergo semi-commercial testing, develop post-harvest handling and ripening procedures and consumer acceptance testing.
“We need to make sure that people are happy to eat the fruit, because even if the variety performs well in the field, if it’s not accepted by consumers, it’s not worth growing!”
The work at Duranbah is part of the national project called ‘Improved plant protection for the banana industry’ that is addressing pest and disease issues. This site is one of three across Australia (the others being South Johnstone in Queensland and Coastal Plains in the Northern Territory) that are investigating new banana varieties, with Duranbah having a primary focus on Panama disease Race 1 and cold tolerance.
Those attending the 2019 Australian Banana Industry Congress will have the chance to explore the Duranbah trial site and Mr McKeever’s work first hand, if they choose to take part in a site tour to Northern NSW (Wednesday 22 May).
“The trial site really is well worth seeing. It’s the only Panama race 1 trial in Australia, so it’s very important – particularly in this area where that disease is a big issue,” he said.
”We have 16 varieties, sourced locally and from international programs, we’re testing for Panama race 1 resistance.
“We’ll also still have some plants in the agronomy block, where we collected the original data for the plants that ended up in the best bets trial, so growers will be able to see these and other varieties on their 4th and 5th ratoons.”
More information on Congress Site Tours can be found at www.bananacongress.org.au/site-tours