Woolies farmers take centre stage

Dennis HowePrime Time TV is not the natural habitat for most farmers but Queensland banana farmer Dennis Howe says if it means helping to sell more fresh Australian-grown food he’ll do it.
That’s why he agreed to feature in a new farmer-led advertising campaign by Woolworths.
Dennis has been farming bananas at Walkamin since 1996. He grew up in the area and was born into farming.
His parents encouraged him to leave the farm and study at university, which he did, gaining an engineering. But when his father fell ill he returned him and now runs the farm with his two sisters.
Howe Farming is a major banana supplier to both chain stores and Dennis estimates they produce about 100million individual bananas each year.
The Howes farm about 1416ha of land on the Atherton Tableland and as well as Cavendish bananas, they also grow peanuts, coffee and avocados.
Dennis is a reluctant TV star but says he’s comfortable with the end product because it is a true representation of how his farm runs.
“Apart from me being in the ad I think they’ve done a blooming good job,” he says .
“They’ve captured the beauty of the scenery and it’s very realistic. The only thing they asked us to change was the colour of our shirts, otherwise it’s true to how we grow and pick bananas. At the end of the day if we can help them sell more bananas then it’s in our interest.”
Australians love bananas and eat about 14kg of bananas each every year.
The farmer-focused ads from Woolworths were released in conjunction with new research, commissioned by the chainstore, which reveals Australians are increasingly interested in knowing where their food comes from and who grows it.

Key findings from the study reveal that in 2034:

  • Fresh food will be the fastest selling and most popular produce
  • Hyper-local fresh food becomes top priority, with a move to back to basics and locally-sourced suppliers
  • Over 60 per cent surveyed worry the next generation of children won’t know where their fresh food comes from
  • The shopping centre will replace the village green as the top gathering place for the local community.
  • New families are 2.6 times more likely to shop online than the average Australian, indicating that the next, hyper-connected generation will rely on technology as an integral part of the grocery buying process
  • Price and discount will be critical (68 per cent of shoppers now actively seek out products on discount) but the term ‘value’ will come to mean much more than just price and will include lifestyle, health and ethical considerations

BananasPaddock to Plate
Planting: We work our soil up into raised beds and we plant in twin rows, 7m apart. We used to plant north to south so we’d have even sun on the rows but now we realise the most important thing is getting your drainage right.
Tissue culture: Older farmers plant chopped up bits of banana trees. We plant tissue culture. We buy it from labs where they create tiny little bits of plant, which are grown out in nurseries. We receive them about 450mm high.
Growing: The time of year you plant will dictate how quickly the tree grows. The banana tree throws up followers from the base and it’s a big job keeping them out. We cut them out after we’ve selected just one which will become the next plant.
Flowers: The flower, or the bunch, comes out of the top of the plant. From there it takes between 10 and 20 weeks before you’ll be harvesting fruit. If the bunch comes out in September you’ll be harvesting in 10 to 12 weeks. If it comes out in April/May it could be 19 to 20 weeks.
Bagging: Once the bunch emerges and once the fingers open up we put a plastic bag over the bunch to protect the fruit from sunburn and from flying foxes and other damage.
Harvest: Our harvest is all done manually. We send a two-man crew in, one is a cutter and one a humper. The guys wear footy helmets to protect their heads against the cane knives. We set our gauge to 31mm and measure the bottom of the hand. If it’s big enough they’ll take it. Harvesting is hard work but the guys who do it love it. We have a 55kg guy capable of carrying 50kg bunches. The average bunch of bananas weighs about 40kg.
Green fruit: We pick the fruit when it’s hard and green. We put the bananas on a trailer and take it back to the shed. By picking green we meet DPI certifications so we don’t have to treat for fruit fly when they go to Tasmania and Melbourne. It’s also a way of controlling the ripening of the fruit. By sending fruit to the market green they can schedule the ripening for when it’s needed.
Ripening rooms: The chains have ripening facilities. They like to have fruit on the shelves within two weeks of harvesting. We send our fruit at 15 degrees and when it’s ready to be ripened they bring the temperature to about 18-19degrees and trick a bit of ethylene in. They vent the rooms to let the carbon dioxide out and let the oxygen in.
Daughter tree: The first tree to produce fruit is known as the mother. After the fruit is taken we cut the mother in half and the follower – or the daughter – that’s been growing beside starts to grow. Within 10months we can take fruit off the second tree. We have blocks that are 15 years old and are still quite productive.