Australian banana grower's premier event has been launched in Cairns, which is being seen as an opportunity to re-energise the industry after the past twelve months, which has been affected by COVID-19.
Held every two years, Committee Chair Paul Inderbitzin says the Australian Banana Industry Congress, which FreshPlaza is attending, is a unique chance for growers to network, share ideas and be brought up-to-date with the latest cutting edge technology, innovation and essential research and developments affecting the industry.
"We have had so much time cooped up in our own little boxes talking to each other on computer screens, so this is a great chance to put that human factor back into what we do, and put names to faces again," he said. "As well it is another chance to talk about and develop this great industry that we have here in Australia."
Mr Inderbitzin says the industry has "not missed a beat" in getting the job done during the pandemic, but there have been some major challenges when it comes to finding workers, largely due to Australia's closed international borders.
"It hasn't got to the position where anyone is seriously short of fruit, but it has been one of the most significant and unbelievable challenges that we have all had to work through," Mr Inderbitzin said. "You are showing up, one day to the next, and you don't know who is going to roll in to get the job done. We are a hands-on industry and it takes a lot of bodies to get our beautiful fruit onto the kitchen tables of consumers. So that has been one of the impacts COVID has had on the Ag industry, hort industry and more specifically the banana industry."
While COVID-19 and the worker shortage will be a key theme at the Congress, there are many other issues to be discussed, with presentations from marketing professionals, scientific researchers, motivational speakers and even other industries to find out how they have coped with fungal and disease issues.
"We have the TR4 problem in our industry, and it is not going anywhere," Mr Inderbitzin said. "So, it is smart to look at the science that they had to work through to get the success that they have found. We will be talking about what consumers will be looking for; and how we are presenting the fruit and getting all the good things across to consumers so that are seeing the value in the product because it is really good value for money. It is also about what growers are doing that is interesting, that is different and how are they solving problems differently."
The industry in Far North Queensland is also recovering from a severe weather low, which caused some major damage to banana farms.
"That put a solid 20 per cent supply dint in everything," he said. "That has opened up the market, those fortunate to have fruit will do well. The banana industry has gone through a tough twelve months; financially it has been very tough. So, for those who have been knocked over, it is salt in the wounds, but for the others, it is a chance to make their money back. But do not worry, there will still be lots of bananas around and they will find consumers no matter what."
Congress sessions will be held on May 13-14, wrapping up with the Banana Industry Ball and Awards of Honour, on Friday evening.