Premium on local bananas

BANANAS are set to become a luxury fruit within two months and may remain so until August.

Cyclone Yasi has devastated the North Queensland banana industry with estimates yesterday it had destroyed at least 75 per cent of the crop.

The loss could see local consumers paying as much as $14 per kilogram for the fruit and local growers enjoying a brief price boom.

The Australian Banana Growers Council said yesterday 95% of crops in Innisfail and Tully were gone,

plus 20% of the Atherton Tablelands and 80% of the Kennedy region (south of Cardwell).

Tully and Innisfail alone represent about 85% of the $400 million Australian banana industry. This estimate does not include damage to homes, sheds and machinery.

Cyclone Larry, which destroyed much of the Queensland crop in 2006, saw consumers paying up to $15 a kilogram and growers enjoyed windfall prices before an oversupply of bananas dropped rates to rock bottom by last year.

When prices were at their highest, growers even had to contend with the theft of banana bunches from their plantations.

Coffs Coast grower Wally Gately said they had no hope of being able to replace the quantity of fruit lost and Woolgoolga grower Ron Gray said they feared the shortage would give banana imports from the Philippines a foot in the door.

It will take a while for consumers to feel the effects of the lost crop.

Ron Gray, the president of the Coffs Harbour and Woolgoolga Banana Growers Association, said there would already be five weeks supply in the system, counting bananas ripening in cool rooms in the capital cities and in Queensland and NSW.

He said Queensland growers would also try to salvage anything they could from their plantations and would ‘go back and have another go’ once prices went up.

BGA chairman Wally Gately said the main issue locally was the falling number of growers.

“There are less than 200 local growers left,” Mr Gately said

He said local growers had been struggling with wholesale prices as low as $6 for a 13kg carton of bananas, when the break-even price was about $14 a carton.

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