Dedication and innovation recognised at Banana Congress

Dedication and innovation recognised at Banana Congress

Outstanding contributions to Australia’s banana industry were recognised in Cairns last night, as the 2023 Banana Congress came to a close.

A challenging and thought-provoking plenary program wrapped up yesterday, before growers and industry representatives converged for the highly anticipated Banana Ball.

Congress Chair and Lakeland grower, Paul Inderbitzin, said organisers had hoped the 2023 Congress would provide a chance to tackle some serious issues head-on – and it had done just that.

“Growers are in a really tough space with cost of production increases, while at the same time, our product is undervalued.

“There is plenty of work to be done and change is necessary. Leading up to this event, I know people who, for the first time, were questioning how they could stay in bananas. I don’t think we have all the answers yet, but in about 72 hours we’ve looked at everything from on-farm innovation, through to recycling and sustainability, as well as the marketing and retail space.”

The event culminated in last night’s Banana Ball, a highlight on the social calendar but also a rare opportunity to celebrate people doing great things for the industry.

Since 1995, the Awards of Honour have been presented by the Australian Banana Growers’ Council to shine the spotlight on those who have made a significant contribution to bananas.

The 2023 recipients were:

  • Paul Johnston, former banana grower and ABGC director

The Johnston name is part of the farming fabric in Far North Queensland. Paul’s father, Mort Johnston, was considered a pioneer of the industry and Paul has furthered their reputation as innovative, community-minded growers.Paul weathered the best and worst of farming, facing natural disaster, rising costs of production, and the detection of Panama TR4 on his farm. Passionate about his own banana business and the industry more broadly, Paul served as an ABGC Director for eight years, including time as treasurer and Vice President. Sadly, Paul made the tough decision to get out of bananas late last year, but he and his family have left a lasting legacy. And though he packed his last carton over six months ago, he was still on stage at Congress 2023,sharing his experience of farming with TR4.

  • Richard Piper, entomologist, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

Richard is the person you turn to if you want to know anything about insects and bananas.

He’s worked with bananas for over three decades, both in a private and government capacity, most recently for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries at South Johnstone. He has been instrumental in finding new ways to control bunch pests, screening new synthetic chemistries as well as biological products like fungi, bacteria, beneficial nematodes and botanical chemistries. His work has made real, tangible difference on so many farms, his research is widely recognised and extremely highly regarded. On top of that – he’s genuinely interested in sharing his work with others and always up for a chat.

The Future Farming Award, introduced in 2021, celebrates Outstanding Achievement in Banana Best Management Practice.

The award is given in recognition of commitment, innovation, willingness to share information, and contribution to the improvement of long-term water quality whilst achieving a productive farm.

There were some fantastic nominees this year, as the Banana BMP celebrates its 10th birthday, but the award ultimately went to Steve Lizzio and Richelle Miles of MBL Bananas.

A reduction in sediment and nutrient losses from their farm are testament to the best practice efforts they have employed including an innovative spoon drain, sediment ponds, and major repair and maintenance to a waterway. The large, grassed spoon drain is a significant structure which has reduced the threat of erosion in a major high-flow channel on their farm. The construction has slowed water flow and reduced soil loss, maintaining the integrity of their high-traffic areas that were once washed away. In addition, they prioritise soil health to achieve profitability by improving soil microbial populations.

Along with the accolades, Steve and Richelle have won a family cruise to Upolu “Wonderwall” Reef and Cay, and an introductory scuba dive with Ocean Freedom.

ABGC Chair Leon Collins congratulated all three Award winners on behalf of industry.

“These Award winners really do exemplify what it is we try to do in bananas, regardless of whether you’re a grower, researcher or sit somewhere else on the supply chain,” Mr Collins said.

“We’re innovative, willing to share our knowledge and passionate about what we do. We want to leave things a little bit better for those who come after us.

“That’s why I’m confident that, despite the challenges we currently face, there’s still plenty to look forward to in this tough but hugely rewarding industry.”

Photographs can be supplied if required.