Next time you bite into a banana spare a thought for the farmer who grew it. Banana-growing is a tough gig, particularly as most bananas are grown in a tropical climate, which often means extreme weather.
I recently interviewed Stephen Mackay who heads up the family’s banana business Mackays. They’re based in North Queensland and they grow about 10 per cent of Australia’s bananas and pack and market about 35 per cent of our bananas.
The family used to plan on being hit by a cyclone once every 20 to 30 years. But lately the cyclones have been striking more regularly and at shorter intervals. Their farming operation took a 100 pr cent hit when Cyclone Yasi moved through in January 2011. It was the fourth cyclone to hit their farms.
But they don’t give up that easily and the family is back farming and marketing bananas. So next time you’re faced with a higher-than-normal banana price, load up your trolley and know you’re helping to keep a banana farmer viable. Stephen says if you pay less than $2/kg retail the farmer is losing money.
Here’s what happens on the paddock to plate journey.
Planting: We either plant tissue culture or corn material in the ground. About nine months later a bunch forms near the base and it comes up the centre of the tree. It comes out as a purple flower and it releases female fingers.
Harvest: When we harvest that physically kills the tree. We leave a sucker beside the tree, about six-foot high. That’s our next crop. It’s a mother, daughter, grandmother scenario. Throughout our plantation we have multiple generations growing. We expect to get between 30 and 40kg of fruit from each tree. Harvesting is done by hand and we harvest green.
Ripening: They are ripened either by a third party, by the customer or by ourselves in a ripening facility. Ripening takes about seven days, it’s about getting them to a reasonably warm temperature to accept gas into the cells of the bananas.
Regeneration: Every five years we knock the plantation out and plant a cover crop to get rid of any soil born diseases. About 12 months later we plant a new crop.