The challenges from COVID-19, the weather and lower consumer demand has led to a decline in sales this winter for one of Queensland’s newest banana brands in 2020.
Nourish Banana Co's Director Jade Buchanan says people are not going out to eat as often, and with the closing of cafés and restaurants, sales are down.
“100 per cent, COVID-19 has provided challenges within the industry, like all industries around the country,” she said. “We have introduced social distancing as much as feasible, increased our regular cleaning, increased hygiene practices. Demand for bananas has been greatly affected and this is currently reflected in our current price, which is quite low for this time of year. Returns to some growers have been as low as $10 box (15kg) in some instances, so well below the cost of production. Prices in winter are normally some of the highest we see during the year - not this year so far, though - and the warmer weather up until now is also playing a part.”
Based in Far North Queensland, Nourish Banana Co is a fairly new brand. Personally, Ms Buchanan separated from LMB Farms two years ago, after a background growing bananas for more than 13 years. She says recent production has been slightly below the weekly average, only due to the cooler weather and heavier than average rainfalls, but says the company does aim to supply consistent volumes to market 52 weeks a year, and we manage our crops to make this happen.
“Our production goal each week is between 12,500–14,500 cartons (15kg),” Ms Buchanan said. “Our farm’s (supply), like the industry, can vary, mostly due to weather events. We have had a ‘warmer’ winter, with the exception of May, early on, and above-average rainfall. This definitely makes the conditions harder on the farm for staff to work in, the paddocks get muddy and constant rain is never fun for employees. Fruit supply is up slightly due to the warmer weather.”
The company is family-owned and run, and Ms Buchanan says the next generation of children are starting to work on the farms. NBC consists of four farms in the Innisfail area, making up about 240 hectares.
“In 2019, we built a brand new packing facility on one of the farms,” Ms Buchanan said. “The whole aim of the design was to provide staff with a place they love to come to work, it has amazing views, cool breezes and the latest systems. But we also tried to keep it simple and efficient. All farms are Fresh Care and Fresh Care Environmental accredited, we focus on staff retention and rewards programs – training new staff is costly. We have a very strong focus on supplying a consistent volume of fruit at a consistent quality all year round; and although this cost us money; with having to move around our crops, through new plantings and nurse-suckering – we believe it is key to being economically sustainable and retaining good orders.”
Around 80 per cent of Nourish Banana Co’s fruit goes to Coles each week through green load orders. With 10 per cent being supplied to the Market in Brisbane and Melbourne. Ms Buchanan says in winter months, normally the supply of bananas is lower than average, and this helps the price to be higher, but that has not occurred this year.
“Demand is definitely lower at the moment, this is due partly because of ‘grey’ or chilled fruit, and partly due to Covid-19 and the current lockdowns again across Melbourne,” she said.
Despite the challenges, it has not stopped Ms Buchanan or her family striving for the betterment of the industry. She says the new reef regulations are not too far away, and staffing can be a challenge because ‘farming is not seen as a career path’, but she wants this to change.
“It is actually an amazing job and lifestyle where you get to work outdoors, learn new skills, meet new people,” Ms Buchanan said. “We are a business known to help and be involved in the Banana Industry. I sit on the ABGC and we currently have a ‘Reef Regulation Trial’ on one of the farms. We are not scared to try new ideas when it comes to planting, and have also planted our newest farm with drip irrigation to minimise water usage. We remain positive and optimistic about the future of the industry and our passion and love for the industry is needed to get through the challenges we face daily – but we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
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Nourish Banana Co