While banana trees are not uncommon in New Zealand, they are generally grown for their exotic appearance and not for consumption. So it might come as a surprise to some people that bananas are commercially grown here, albeit on a small scale.
“Of course, it’s a bit marginal, but it’s getting better every year, unfortunately,” says Klaus Lotz, who runs a banana plantation with his family at Matapouri Bay in Northland. He says ‘unfortunately’ because rising temperatures caused by climate change also mean that traditionally tropical crops, like bananas and coffee, are taking off in New Zealand.
“It’s not a crop that you can easily mechanise so it’s just like coffee,” says Lotz. “New Zealand is not the ideal country for that because a) the climate is a bit on the edge and b) the labour costs are high. So we obviously don’t make much money on it, but we make a good living. We have a good livelihood – that’s the most important.”
The bananas that they produce are the Lady Finger variety, which Lotz says are “fruitier, sweeter” than the bananas generally found in supermarkets. “There are, of course, really nice bananas grown all around the world. But what we get in the supermarkets is usually only two varieties maybe, if that, and they’re not that nice and nobody claims that they are selected for taste. They were selected to be resistant to certain fungi, but that resistance is getting lost as well at the moment. But everybody agrees that the ones we get in the supermarket are the blandest of the lot probably.”
Lotz says the Lady Finger has, “More sugar but also more acids. And that makes for a fuller taste than what you get in the supermarket. Plus being grown climatically on an edge sometimes can enhance flavours for certain things.”
While they have previously sent their bananas around the country, for now the Lotz family prefer to keep it local and supply their own community.
“Given that we can easily sell what we produce on the growers’ market locally, we felt it’s not worth it for us. We have loyal customers that keep buying from us because they know we also have them in winter and they like to support what we’re doing. They understand how we operate whereas a lot of other growers use herbicides, they use artificial fertilisers. They actually prefer buying from us because they understand how we do it.”