Peter Molenaar, of Mullumbimby, attempts to bend one of his Lady Finger bananas to suit supermarket criteria.
Peter Molenaar, of Mullumbimby, attempts to bend one of his Lady Finger bananas to suit supermarket criteria. DAVID NIELSEN

Growers going bananas

NSW banana growers have weighed into the debate about blemish-free bananas and harvests being pulped for fertiliser.

Mullumbimby banana grower, and board member of the Australian Banana Growers’ Council, Peter Molenaar, believes the supermarket categories are far too restrictive, ignoring the true qualities of subtropical bananas and making it difficult to compete with Far North Queensland tropical bananas.

Woolworths’ specifications include length, colour, shape and curvature.

Anything outside that is rejected.

He said NSW growers were constantly battling to get recognition for their fruit which was usually smaller than that from Far North Queensland.

“We struggle to get a decent wholesale price which our fruit deserves, and major supermarkets often dismiss it entirely,” he said.

“Perfectly good fruit from subtropical growers is dumped sometimes when reasonable prices cannot be achieved.

“We believe it is time that consumers had greater choice. Let them have the choice of smaller fruit, or those with blemishes at a different price point.”

Mr Molenaar said the smaller fruit was often more popular with families as it was more suitable for children.

“Many consider that NSW bananas are sweeter as they take longer to grow in subtropical conditions,” he said.

“Growers in Carnarvon, Western Australia, have shown it can be done and have successfully marketed smaller ‘lunchbox’ bananas and blemished bananas as ‘smoothie’ bananas.

“We need to work more closely with retailers to make these kinds of initiatives happen in the east coast markets.”

Mr Molenaar said there were more sub-tropical growers working smaller farms and as such they needed to band together to optimise their product.

“To market our product successfully from a commercial point of view we need to change attitudes and ideas about the perfect banana,” he said.

NSW already has much less wastage compared with Far North Queensland as there are more options for growers with plenty of small stores keen to take local product.

The Northern Rivers also has an abundance of local farmers’ markets, something he thinks the local industry could better capitalise on.

“We certainly have a product that is as good, and sometimes better at certain times of the year, than tropical bananas, but still we are discounted 52 weeks of the year.”

It is estimated that nationally 100,000 tonnes of bananas are pulped and used as fertiliser on banana plantations each year.

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