IT HAS been more than a week since Cyclone Yasi hit but the battle for banana supply has only just begun.
After suffering several defeats, North Queensland banana growers can celebrate a small triumph – being allowed to certify salvageable fruit blown over by Yasi.
Farmers within the Cassowary Coast Region and Hinchinbrook Shire have been given until February 17 to recover fruit from their banana crops affected by the cyclone.
Primary Industries Minister Tim Mulherin said the arrangement with Biosecurity Queensland would give growers two more weeks to certify bananas from fallen plants.
“This arrangement is a great outcome for both growers and consumers,” Mr Mulherin said.
“It will enable growers to retrieve fruit that is still in a mature green condition destined for interstate markets.”
Northern tropics biosecurity officer Rosalie Anderson said growers only had two weeks before their bunches would be too far gone to meet strict interstate market quality standards.
“We’ve now got enough experience in our system to give confidence to interstate authorities and protect the reputation of our growers,” Ms Anderson said.
“Many of the farms in the target shires have been quite badly damaged by the cyclone and this arrangement allows people to have a little bit longer… to get fruit into the market and continue their income until their bunches (grow) again in new crops.”
Ms Anderson said to be eligible, banana growers must currently hold ICA-06 accreditation and complete the ICA-16 application, and submit it to a biosecurity officer in their area for processing.
“The fee for the annual application will be waived during this two-week period,” she said.
Australian Banana Growers' Council chief executive officer Jonathan Eccles said the arrangement was a real win for devastated growers.
“It’s been very welcome news and we’ve been busy protecting these bunches from sun damage by sheltering them with leaves so they’ll still grow and fill out – (then) we’ll be able to pick them in a few days’ time,” Mr Eccles said.
“I think we’ll probably have another seven to 10 days of supply on top of what we’ve already picked prior to the cyclone.
“It just gives the growers the added benefit of being able to market this fruit, which would otherwise not be marketed.
“These bunches have obviously gone through very strong winds and rain so (consumers) will see the skins have superficial damage, like wind scarring. There will be marks from that and also from the rain – but internally the fruit is perfectly good to eat.”
Mr Eccles says Biosecurity Queensland will run random quality checks in packing sheds across the region.
He has strong hopes that the pre-emptive measures taken by some farmers before the cyclone, like deleafing, will help ease supply pressures in five or six months when the next yield arrives.
“We hope consumers don’t be turned off by fruit that has these marks on it and as I said they’re really good to eat and the best way to support the growers is to continue to buy these bananas."
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