Goin’ bananas

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt on my travels, it’s that farmers in the UK share pretty much the same problems as every other farmer in the world.

Supply and demand, retailer power, pricing, red tape and high input costs are affecting producers in every country I’ve been to so far, and Australia is certainly no different.

Today Marty took me to visit his brother, Doug, who farms bananas a few miles away from him.

Bananas and Doug

Fruit from the plants covering Doug’s 200 acre unit are harvested each week and taken to a processing plant about a mile down the road where they’re washed, cut into bunches, packed and then sent off in trucks to supermarkets in Brisbane and Sydney.

It’s a simple system and one that should work pretty well – the biggest challenge for a banana farmer seems to be trying to keep the fruit’s skin blemish-free so picky shoppers aren’t put off from buying the fruit.

Bananas

But this year things aren’t quite so simple.

A warm, damp winter has meant that bananas have continued to grow in abundance during a season when consumer demand for the fruit tails off.

The result? Massive over-supply, plummeting prices, huge amounts of fruit going to waste and banana farmers being forced out of the industry.

Doug says for the last seven months, he has sold his fruit for a least 40 cents/box below the cost of production, while he typically chucks away about 20% of his crop without even trying to bother selling it.

Australia’s food retail market is pretty much a duopoly between Woolworths and Coles, and the oversupply means these two retailers can be even pickier than usual and drive down prices even more. Sound familiar?

With Christmas coming up and Australia’s stone fruit season imminent, things aren’t looking to great in the short-term for banana producers. Luckily they’ve managed to stave off imports from the Philippines on a biosecurity basis, but on employment costs alone, if that situation ever changed growers here would be in an even stickier situation.

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