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Pacific Wind Of Change Put Growers In The Money


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
KIRPAL HUSNA, a third-generation Sikh farmer from Woolgoolga, has thought about getting out of bananas many times.

He did so five years ago, escaping a torturous slump caused by oversupply, by diversifying into avocados and custard apples just a few cruel months before cyclone Larry changed farmers' fortunes.

But his 21-year old son, Gurkran, encouraged a return to bananas two years ago and in the wake of cyclone Yasi it seemed a blessed move.

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''It's in the lap of the gods sometimes,'' he said. ''You might not get this situation for 10 years.''

Five months on from cyclone Yasi, which wiped out 75 per cent of Australia's banana production, NSW bananas are still fetching up to $15 per kilogram and demand is still sky-high for the state's smaller, sweeter, sometimes uglier bananas.

The 400 small-scale growers of NSW usually make up less than 15 per cent of Australia's $500 million banana industry but this has ballooned to about 40 per cent since February.

The Australian Banana Growers Council forecasts the nationwide supply shortage to keep prices high until October.

Mr Husna doesn't keep his money when it comes. With his daughter's wedding coming up and his Cavendish bananas selling for $120 a carton (13 kilograms), he finally has a chance ''to spend money willingly instead of being so stingy''.

''Most of all, it encourages my son to keep going when he sees these prices. I'm more happy for him than for me.''

A Woolgoolga grower, Ron Gray, who is president of the Coffs Harbour and Woolgoolga Banana Growers' Association, said banana farming was ''devastating'' before the cyclone.

''We'd been four years with no income and before that I was making enough to keep the bananas growing but not enough to keep me going. The highest I got in 14 years was $14 a carton. If something hadn't happened, NSW growers would not have been able to afford to keep going,'' he said.

Before Christmas, farmers were better off planting blueberries or letting their bananas rot than selling them for just $4 a carton, less than half the break-even price. They are now fetching up to $140 a carton.

The economist Saul Eslake said Australia should import bananas to relieve the hip pockets of frustrated shoppers but the mayor of Coffs Harbour, Keith Rhoades, said the risk of exotic disease was too great.

North Queensland growers are likely to start selling bananas in the coming months although damaged trees will produce smaller bunches and therefore reduce the number of cartons available.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/environment/w...n-the-money-20110701-1gvbv.html#ixzz1QuW3zroG


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