Going troppo over bananas

 

 

ONCE a booming industry, Ord Valley banana growers are becoming an endangered species.

With only a handful continuing the tradition and a lot of expressed negativity – hope for the industry’s future is varied.

 

But devastating storms, low market prices, high transport costs and fungal diseases have done little to deter grower Dave Dietrich from going bananas.

 

Dave moved to Kununurra 12 years ago and after spending two years working on a banana plantation decided it was time to go solo – with a new variety in tow.

 

Cavendish has long been the favoured variety in the Ord Valley, but has proved problematic in strong winds and is easily affected by a serious fungal disease known as Yellow Sigatoka leaf spot.

Originally this disease posed a problem with commercially-grown Cavendish bananas in Northern Queensland and was first reported in Kununurra in 1990.

The fungus was most noticeable at the end of the wet season on plantations that had not been sprayed.

 

But for the past two years Dave has been the only Ord grower trialling the Ducasse variety – with positive results.

 

The Ducasse banana is native to Thailand and is being grown all over the eastern seaboard.
It was brought to Kununurra because of its strong resistance to tropical fungal leaf diseases – in particular Yellow Sigatoka.

 

And Dave said it had also proved more suited to the harsh environment of the Ord Valley.

“It seems to be well-matched to the extremes in temperature and stands up to storms a lot better.”

“We recently lost two hectares to a storm but the Ducasse held on pretty well.”

“It is our plan to convert most of our 4.5 hectare property to Ducasse.”

 

The Ducasse banana is a small, thin-skinned, sweet tasting banana that does not brown easily when cut.

“I really enjoy growing bananas,” Dave said.

“It has its ups and downs – half the killer is the extreme temperatures we get up here – but it is something I like doing.”

 

He and his wife Mandy established Bullrout Produce – named after their original territory – to sell largely into the local Asian market.

And they have plans to expand into the boutique market.

 

“Mandy and I work very hard, it is just the two of us and bananas are quite labour intensive,” Dave said.

 

Dave said Kununurra was not the ideal climate for bananas and growers had to use different strategies to survive and succeed.

 

“Mandy and I grow the trees closer together to create a larger canopy to trap the humidity,” he said.

“We also water the trees from the bottom, using micro-irrigation, which helps create a micro-climate for the trees and we think this is the only way to do it.”

 

Additionally, the bananas are covered with a bag to keep the heat distribution even and dirt-free and they are harvested between 10 to 18 weeks – depending on the weather.

 

Bananas grow all year round in the Valley and Dave and Mandy are currently harvesting weekly, sending 120 boxes south every seven days.

“It really starts to pick up this time of year during the dry season and our bananas are growing well,” Dave said.

But with boxes fetching no more than $22, Dave hopes the market price will increase too.

 

And even though some growers insist on letting their crops drop to the ground if market prices are not good enough – Dave said it was worth sending them anyway.

“A lot of money is put into growing the crop – you are better off getting something rather than nothing.”

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