Stephen Lowe, Chair
At the end of 2020, I think most growers had high hopes that 2021 would somehow wave a magic wand and bring with it some positive prosperity, to counteract a year we’d all rather forget.
After a tumultuous 12 months that included a pandemic, changing consumer trends, worker shortages, continued poor prices and severe weather events, impacting growers nationally, many were left to ponder how much more we could continue to take.
But sadly, the new year has brought a whole new set of challenges. In March, a considerable number of Far North Queensland growers – largely in the Innisfail region – sustained catastrophic damage from Cyclone Niran. With little prior warning, the system (which made landfall as a Tropical Low) tore a path through the area, causing similar damage for some farms to that from Cyclone Yasi back in 2011. And, at the time of writing this column, growers in northern New South Wales were waiting anxiously to assess damage from a deepening flood crisis in the state.
Initial reports to the ABGC indicated that no major damage to crops had been reported, however growers were indicating that they would need urgent assistance to repair infrastructure (roads/crossings) in order to get back onto their farms.
In the wake of both these events, the ABGC was doing all it could to keep growers informed of any government assistance that became available, as well as lobby governments for emergency relief and (in the case of Far Northern growers) the need for urgent wage assistance.
In the days following TC Niran in the Far North, I toured the area to speak with some of these affected growers. I can honestly say that I was left shocked and saddened by the extent of crop damage. Some growers were left with 100 per cent damage to bunched plants, while others sustained between 40-80 per cent. With some now facing up to nine months without an income, it was clear that these growers would need some form of assistance in order to recover.
Initially, it was pleasing to see both the Federal and State Agriculture Ministers respond to calls from the ABGC to see the damage first-hand and hear from affected growers. But our hopes were quickly dashed when these visits did not translate into the delivery of tangible relief options for growers. Low interest loans were unlikely to be taken up by many.
And the announcement of grants of up to $25,000 came with stringent criteria which meant many growers would be ineligible to claim this disaster funding. The ABGC continues to lobby government to assist these impacted growers with wage assistance to help retain staff, which was the case following Cyclone Yasi. Already battling ongoing low prices and worker shortages, and now facing months without an income stream, affected growers say wage assistance will at least go some way towards their long-term recovery and will ensure they have a workforce when back in production.
For growers recovering from the forementioned natural disasters of late, our upcoming Congress is probably the last thing on your mind. However, for those who are in a position to attend our biggest national event, I would encourage you to do so.
After a hugely successful event on the Gold Coast in 2019, the Congress organising committee have produced another stellar program for 2021. The event will be held in Cairns from May 12-14. I know personally, I am looking forward to enjoying a few days away from the farm to hear from some fantastic speakers and catch up with other growers in a relaxed social setting. It will also be an opportunity for growers to discuss changes needed to industry.
For more information on the exciting 2021 program go to the Congress website at www.bananacongress.org.au.