Palmwoods banana grower Peter Molenaar was forced to change from producingover-supplied Cavendish bananas to growing lady fingers in order to save his business.
Palmwoods banana grower Peter Molenaar was forced to change from producingover-supplied Cavendish bananas to growing lady fingers in order to save his business. Cathy Adams

Not so bonzer for banana growers

WHILE shoppers are enjoying ‘cheap as chips’ banana prices at the moment, local banana growers are suffering.

The number of Cavendish banana growers on the Northern Rivers is declining rapidly, with almost five times fewer growers now than there were 30 years ago.

However, bananas have been unable to return a respectable profit recently, with Cavendish, one of the main types ofbanana varieties grown in Australia, selling for about $2 a kilogram in themajor supermarkets and costing about $1.50 a kilogram to produce.

Grower Peter Molenaar, of Palmwood, near Mullumbimby, who has been in theindustry for 30 years, has noticed a disappointing dip in the price of bananas.

“Banana prices have been depressed lately because there is too much supply,” he said. “The last few months the price has been up and down. They need to be a lot dearer than they are to allow growers to have a profitable business.

“Anything else is a waste of time. You can’t keep growing below the cost of production.”

The Australian Banana Growers’ Council member stopped growing Cavendish bananas about 10 years ago and switched to growing lady finger bananas – a move that saved his business.

“I wouldn’t be here if I was still growing Cavendish,” Mr Molenaar said.

“It took me about eight years to change to growing lady fingers, but I had to too survive.”

Mr Molenaar sells about 100 cartons of bananas a week at this time of year, but that increases to about 400 cartons between September and December.

His sales would come nowhere close to that if he was still trying to sell Cavendish bananas into an over-supplied market, as the competition from banana growers in Far North Queensland was too strong.

But even the banana growing powerhouse of Far North Queensland is struggling to sell its fruit.

“The overall picture up there is that they are growing too much and the mild weather this season has pushed the fruit forward,” Mr Molenaar said.

“Our conditions for growing bananas here are a lot harder because of the terrain and the cooler climate.

“When you are growing lady fingers you can still compete, but with Cavendish you can’t.”

Lady finger bananas, like those grown by Mr Molenaar, have a higher market price than their counterparts as they are slower to grow, grow fewer per hectare and the bunches are a lot smaller.



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