Banana growers among Reef Champions

Innovative practices and a willingness to share experience saw banana growers Ben and Matt Abbott recognised with a Reef Champion Award this week.

The Reef Champion Awards are an initiative of the Reef Alliance, with support from the Australian and Queensland governments.

Brothers Ben and Matt received the 2022 Reef Pesticide Stewardship Champion Award, recognising the exemplary efforts of an individual or farming business to improve their practices and reduce run-off.

The Abbotts, based at Mena Creek in Far North Queensland (Johnstone Catchment in the Wet Tropics), run a completely organic enterprise. While the industry as a whole has reduced the use of pesticides significantly in the last 20 years, the Abbotts use no synthetic chemicals and maintain organic certification covering both their banana and papaya produce.

“Our farming practices today have been 40 plus years in the making and we would not be where we are today without the hard work our parents Robert and Jenny put in,” Matt said.

“Farming has its fair share of challenges, but we love what we do and the team we do it with. This award is a credit to the hard work and dedication everyone has put in.”

The Abbotts’ decision to move to organic production was driven both by the desire to be more sustainable and to tap into the niche organic market.

The early years of conversion were tough as the land and soil adjusted to reduced chemical inputs. The new style of farming also meant a complete change in mindset for those used to relying on chemical interventions. Now though, the Abbotts feel the decisions they’ve made in regard to farm layout, plant health and practices have been well worthwhile.

They use natural solutions such as intensive deleafing and reduced plant density to integrate pest management and plant nutrition. Weeds and grass are controlled through a unique slashing program combined with human-powered manual weed removal.

Farming without pesticides is not without its challenges, costing more in labour and machinery. The Abbotts are constantly trialing new ways to improve farm management both for their own business and for the environment.

Australian Banana Growers’ Council Chair Stephen Lowe congratulated Ben, Matt and their teams on behalf of industry.
“Many banana growers have gone to great lengths to improve their practices on-farm and the Abbotts truly exemplify this,” he said.

“They are highly regarded within our industry and much further afield. I hope they’ve found a moment in amongst the busyness of farming to reflect on this great achievement.”

ABGC’s Strategy Manager, Michelle McKinlay, said the Award was well-deserved recognition of years of hard work.

“I would also thank the Abbotts for the countless hours they have given back to industry, through participating in projects, speaking at events like Congress, putting their hands up to trial new ideas and generally being incredibly approachable and generous with their experience.