– Stephen Lowe
Last magazine the COVID-19 pandemic was just taking hold globally – and four months later there still remains a great deal of uncertainty, both here on home soil and internationally.
For our industry, the pandemic has presented some distinct supply and demand challenges, which I’m sure we’ll continue to face for some time.
While Queensland has faired quite well in the pandemic, in comparison to the likes of Victoria and NSW, consumer buying patterns nationally have affected demand, and wholesale prices, for industry across the board.
On page 12, Mackays Marketing CEO Richard Clayton provides an interesting insight into how consumer buying habits have changed during COVID and what we may see influence sales into the future. Another logistical factor that has affected the banana supply chain has been the closure of several major distribution centres (DCs) in Victoria in June/July, following confirmed coronavirus cases amongst staff. The closures caused temporary stock shortages at Coles and Woolworths stores across the state.
On-farm, growers continue to take steps to protect their workers and families against COVID, to not only safeguard their health, but to ensure their farms can continue to operate. Some of these measures may have seemed arduous at the time, but I believe that it has assisted industry greatly to minimize the transmission of this virus, especially amongst our seasonal workforce. The Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC) assisted growers with implementing some of these on-farm changes by developing a ‘COVID-19 Guide for Banana Growers’. The guide includes steps to help farm owners/managers to implement measures within their businesses to limit the spread of the virus, as well as steps that need to be taken if an employee displays or reports symptoms of COVID-19. The guide can be found on the ABGC website at www.abgc.org.au
Water quality Senate hearing
At the time of writing this report, I was preparing to address a Senate inquiry on 27 July to assist the members of this Committee to develop evidence-based regulation of on-farm practices that impact water quality outcomes on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). This meeting was due to take place in March of this year, however it was postponed due to COVID. Basically, the inquiry aims to establish whether there is enough valid, scientific evidence to justify new water quality regulation of farming practices in the GBR catchment.
Previously, ABGC (on behalf of North Queensland banana growers) have argued that there is a lack of scientific evidence available, about run-off and nutrient leaching from commercial banana farms. And, in many cases, decisions – including the decision to regulate some banana farming practices – are based on modelling and assumptions that are, at best, questionable. The ABGC would like to see more resources put towards water quality science as it relates to the farming practices of the banana industry.
In relation to the regulations recently approved by the Queensland Government, the banana industry is prepared to work with the nutrient and sediment erosion control provisions as they align closely to the industry’s existing Best Management Practice Guidelines. The ABGC however strongly opposes any additional regulation that will impact on the industry’s ability to be profitable through efficient expansion at a reasonable cost. The Queensland Government’s desire to regulate the banana industry needs to be justified by evidence and this is currently lacking.
There is no doubt that profitable farming and the reef can co-exist but there needs to be improvements made to the systems, processes and culture that are currently in place. I know that banana growers are making significant investment and are achieving significant changes to the way they farm their land. It concerns me that these changes are not showing up in government modelling and environmental Report Cards. This disconnect between actions and results is causing resentment and scepticism among our growers who are rightly questioning the validity of the modelling being used. In addressing the inquiry, I proposed that government, researchers and industry work together to agree on a way to measure and show the progress that is actually happening on farms. We need to leave egos and politics at the door and have a genuine discussion about mapping a way forward.
WA storm damage
Our thoughts were with Carnarvon banana growers in May when they suffered an estimated 30 per cent production loss across the growing region as a result of ex-tropical cyclone Mangga. As growers, we all know the devastation mother nature can inflict at times on our businesses and we wish the Carnarvon growers affected by the recent storms a fast recovery.