Banana industry body names new Chair

Far North Queensland grower Leon Collins will lead the Australian Banana Growers’ Council as Chair, taking over from Stephen Lowe as of 24 April 2023. Mr Lowe had been Chair since December 2016 and will remain on the Council’s executive as Deputy Chair.

Mr Lowe steered the peak industry body through an unprecedented time for growers. In his six-year tenure, the industry faced rising costs of production, the slow but sure spread of Panama tropical race 4, changing environmental regulations and a world-wide pandemic. Natural disasters and periods of low prices also made their mark.

Despite the challenges, Mr Lowe said there are some real positives for growers moving forward.

“Over the last six years, I’ve seen banana growers increasingly recognised for their work in the environmental space,” he said.

“As part of ABGC, I was involved in advocating for our industry ahead of the introduction of the Reef Regulations now in place in Queensland. Growers want to protect the Reef, but we wanted to ensure any new rules were actually relevant and practical. I think we managed to achieve that.

“It was heartening to represent the many, passionate growers out there who are going above and beyond, not only to meet legislative requirements but also to leave things a little better for the next generation,” he added.

“I also think the industry’s ongoing response to Panama TR4 has set us up well for the future. I’ve been on the Board since the first detection, and the way growers have rallied is a very positive sign for what’s to come as we transition to industry management.”

“I’m a little sad to be stepping down as Chair of the ABGC, however I feel it’s time for a transition of my own away from the role.”

Mr Lowe paid tribute to the team of directors and staff he worked with, and said he was confident Mr Collins was the right person to represent industry going forward.

“Leon is a great advocate for banana growers,” Mr Lowe said. “He has a huge amount of experience in this industry and he’s a very good communicator. I have no doubt he’ll be a great asset for the ABGC and for our industry more broadly.”

Mr Collins thanked Mr Lowe for his years of service in the position.

“It’s not an easy job, there’s always a new challenge – much like the banana industry more broadly,” Mr Collins said.

Leon Collins runs one of the largest banana businesses in the country, family-owned since they started growing the fruit in 1971. In addition to bananas, he farms sugar, cattle and avocados on his properties at Tully and Lakeland.  Mr Collins has spearheaded the ABGC’s feral pig control strategies in the Tully Valley, resulting in a significant reduction in the pests.

After serving on the ABGC’s board for more than six years, most recently as Deputy Chair, he’s ready to take on the next challenge.

“You’ve got to give back to industry, that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

“I know there are some big issues out there right now – reduced margins and reduced income are huge worries these days.

“We’ve also got Panama disease looming over our heads. Thank goodness for the work that’s been done by growers, industry more generally and the Government to contain it to Tully so far.”

Mr Collins said he was looking forward to continuing to work closely with the ABGC board and staff to strive for a more profitable and sustainable future for growers.  

The ABGC Board approved the changes to Mr Lowe and Mr Collins’ positions at the most recent meeting.