Heartbreak for banana farmers

SANDY Beach farmer Setnarme Singh is among many Coffs Coast banana farmers facing a heartbreaking task ? replanting almost half his 6ha (15 acre) banana plantation.

Forty-year-old Mr Singh said Tuesday night's gale force northeasterly winds and torrential rain had been 'like a tornado' on his Holloways Road plantation and had inflicted the worst damage to the plantation he had seen in 20 years of banana farming.

He said not only had the storm shredded the leaves of the plants but had blown over between 40 and 50 per cent of his Cavendish banana stools, destroying his and his family's income for the next 18 months and leaving a legacy of backbreaking work.

He said the waterlogged soil had pulled whole clumps out of the ground, so fo each uprooted plant he has to use an axe to cut away the mature plants and the maturing bunch, which is now worthless and replant the 'follower' the small new plant which will be the only survivor.

The full-time banana grower suffered yet another blow because a section of his farm where he had pulled out his bananas ready to replant with blueberries has been severely eroded by the heavy rain.

"We'd have been better off not having this rain," he said bitterly.

"Banana plants can hang out through the dry although the production drops off, but we needed good steady rain.

"Two weeks ago we had two inches in 10 minutes and the soil was so hard it just washed off and washed the roads away."

After three bad years during which he, like other growers, borrowed money to invest in their plantations, hoping for better prices, Mr Singh is now hoping he will be eligible for some natural disaster assistance from the government to help him recover.

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