By Lea Coghlan
Carnarvon banana growers suffered an estimated 30 per cent production loss across the growing region as a result of ex-tropical cyclone Mangga which wreaked havoc on the coast of Western Australia in May.
The out-of-season storm whipped up a fury of dust, wind and rain leaving a trail of destruction. ABGC director and Sweeter Banana Co-operative business manager Doriana Mangili said the damage varied depending on plantations’ exposure.
“We were looking at 2020 being the biggest year for production in ten years as we’ve been able to ramp up production in the last five years,” Ms Mangili said.
“It was the first time since Tropical Cyclone Olwyn struck in 2015 that we have had a severe weather event – no cyclones, no floods and no heatwaves for just over five years.
“This enabled us to ramp up production and this will hopefully help us in a ‘holding pattern’ until growers get back on their feet.”
Former ABGC Director Tom Day, who owns a banana farm on the Gascoyne River, said he had never seen dust storms as severe as they were during the ex-tropical cyclone.
“The severe storm delivered eleven hours of dust,” Mr Day recalled.
“You couldn’t see 30m in front. But we only got 15-20mm of rain.”
Ms Mangili said growers were able to access compensation through the APC Carnarvon Banana Producers Compensation Scheme. The unique fund, to which growers contribute a levy to for each carton produced, provides the industry with self-insurance. Compensation is paid when visible damage to a plantation is in excess of 15 per cent across the entire farm.
“The funding gives some growers an opportunity to receive money up front to replant,” Ms Mangili said.
“It’s paid per the individual farm’s production or what it would have been, prior to the damage.”
Shortly after the event, Sweeter Bananas urged Western Australian consumers to look beyond blemished fruit as the region’s growers recover. The organisation is well known for producing the iconic premium Sweeter Lunchbox Banana, but Ms Mangili warned this fruit would be slightly more blemished due to crop damage.
Consumers were also encouraged to consider another product called Smoothies, a term given to fruit that doesn’t meet premium supermarket specifications.
“The strong winds from the storm and the number of trees brought down has increased the fruit with markings and the volumes of Smoothies bananas has tripled,” Ms Mangili said.
“Smoothies have been such a great help to our growers. Since we developed the product over two million kilos of bananas have been eaten by Western Australians instead of being dumped back in the paddocks as mulch.
“The damage consists of light skin markings on the fruit caused by the leaves rubbing on the bunches as they grow. It’s cosmetic damage and doesn’t impact the fruit inside.
“The simple action of purchasing a less than perfect looking product has a real impact on farm incomes and reducing global food waste.”
COMPENSATION FUND HELPS CYCLONE DEVASTED GROWERS RECOVER
When Tropical Cyclone Olwyn wiped out Carnarvon’s banana industry in 2015, a unique grower-funded insurance scheme was a saving grace for the 45 growers impacted.
The region’s banana growers applied for and were granted a 100 per cent payout each under the Carnarvon Banana Producers Compensation Scheme.
It was the largest payout in the scheme’s history. Since it started in the early 1960s, there have been 24 claims totalling $10.39 million for cyclones, flooding, heat and fire damage.
Some 41 growers across 45 plantations with a total production area of 170 hectares contribute 30c/carton to the scheme. It is administered by the APC Banana Growers Producers’ Committee, which sits under Western Australia’s Agricultural Produce Commission.
Grower and long-serving chair Bruce Munro, who stepped down in June (he was replaced as chair by committee member John Kearney), said the scheme was unique and had been an immense benefit over the years.
“I think the fact that it’s a voluntary scheme is key to its success,” Mr Munro said.
Growers use the money to cover operating costs to enable them to recover and restart after a natural disaster.