National extension program renewed for five years

The National Banana Development and Extension Program has been renewed for a further five years, with a clear focus on re-engaging with growers at a farm level. 

Now in its third iteration, the project (BA19004) isbfunded by Horticulture Innovation via the banana research and development levy, with co-investment from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and contributions from the Australian Government. 

The national team – Tegan Kukulies (currently on leave, Sue Heisswolf is acting), Stewart Lindsay, Ingrid Jenkins and Shanara Veivers (QLD DAF) and Tom Flanagan (NSW DPI) – have earmarked a return for key activities including the National Banana Roadshow Series, speed-date-a-researcher and field days, along with the addition of some new regionally based on-farm trials.

The current COVID-19 health pandemic has forced a rethink on the delivery model for the key activities, and while there remains uncertainty about scheduling for the immediate future, face-to-face interaction remains a high priority in extension and development activities following feedback from growers.

“The new program is about re-engaging at the farm level,” Mr Lindsay said.

“We have divided the industry into districts and aim to coordinate locally relevant activities.

“As people are time poor, we want to visit growers on their farms where we can learn and talk about the circumstances where they may want to do something different.”

The digital world is sure to be a key focus moving forward, with more videos and an improved Better Bananas website.

DAF Information Development Officer Ingrid Jenkins said the website was one of the successes of the program.

“The website was launched in July 2018 at the 2018 National Banana Roadshows and was created to provide growers and other industry
stakeholders with a central go-to location for R&D information, detailing the latest research results and recommendations,” Ms Jenkins said.

“It provides R&D updates, pest, disease and disorder identification guide, videos, information on R&D events and researcher profiles.”

Mr Lindsay said activities delivered under the program to date had been largely driven by the needs of growers.

“In the early days, extension activities were run for each project but were adhoc, with no linkages across projects or structural coordination,” Mr Lindsay said.

“The extension program provided a coordinated, structured approach to extension and development activities, particularly in North Queensland, and later on the sub-tropical region of northern NSW.”

A clear winner among the younger growers has been the establishment of Next Gen groups in Queensland and northern NSW, which will continue under the new program with a focus on innovation and technology.

Primarily targeted at the young and ‘young-at-heart’ growers, the group’s visit to regions like the Northern Territory, where the industry has battled the spread of Panama TR4 for many years, was life-changing for some.

“The group is designed for those young growers who are willing and keen to travel and share their experiences, knowledge and learnings,” Mr Lindsay said.

“The feedback from this group is that the concept is highly valued – they always got something out of it.

“For us, they act as grower champions and as a brains trust.”

New this round will be a series of regional on-farm innovation trials.

“These will be issues that may not be covered in an existing project but identified by growers as being important,” Mr Lindsay said.

“We have planned for one or two on-farm grower trials in each of the banana regions to address these type of issues.”

To contact the extension team:

South Johnstone-based 07 4220 4177
Subtropical enquiries (Tom Flanagan) 02 6626 1352

This National Banana and Development Extension Program (BA19004) has been funded by Hort Innovation, using the banana research and development levy, co-investment from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and contributions from the Australian Government. Hort Innovation is the grower-owned, not-for-profit research and development corporation for Australian Horticulture.