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Banana growers call for urgent government help

Australian banana growers who have lost up to 100 percent of their crop to cyclonic winds are asking urgent help from the Queensland and federal governments.

In a devastating blow to growers who are already struggling with low prices and labor shortages, most banana growers in Innisfail District now envision 3 to 9 months without income.

Fifth generation Boogan grower Charles Camuglia lost his entire crop due to extreme wind on March 1.

Producer Charles Camuglia examines the damage on his farm. Charles lost 100% of his harvest

“It’s 100 percent of our income,” he said. “It’s going to be hard.”
In addition to cleaning and salvaging, Charles has very real concerns about the ability to retain workers or find them once back in production.

“I would love to see the government step in and do something to help us, the producers, keep the staff at times like this. We came out of a good 12-24 months of fairly average prices, so there is no money in the pot to splash around.

Stephen Lowe, president of the Australian Banana Growers’ Council, echoed these thoughts and described the situation as a double-edged sword.

“These producers have tried to have as many workers as possible – still not enough – and now they fear that they will not be able to pay them or find them when needed. It is a problem for sure.

Tony Alcock, a second-generation Innisfail grower, estimates they’ll have to rest around 80 percent of their workers after losing 50 percent of their hanging fruit.

“What we really need is for Australians to buy bananas to support Australian growers,” he said. “It’s nature’s best snack and it even comes with its own packaging.”

Mr Lowe added that agriculture has helped keep Australia strong during the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping local produce on the shelves without much price movement.

ABGC President Stephen Lowe chats with Tony Alcock, who lost 50% of his hanging fruit in storms

Now governments are presenting it as a pillar of the recovery effort.
“So we need the state and federal government to step up and provide horticultural support for the workforce and, in the case of this weather event, especially the banana industry. . It is simply too important an event to ignore and we will continue to put the pressure on.

A first loss assessment was undertaken by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, assisted by ABGC, this week. This will be reviewed by the government to determine the type of assistance that can be offered. The ABGC is calling for producers to be considered for funding under the disaster recovery funding arrangements, in particular the special disaster recovery grants. These grants could help support staff retention and in turn
have a positive impact on employees, contractors, families and the community at large. In addition, ABGC is keen to see the government provide worker retention assistance to the most affected producers.

For Gurjeet and Kuldip Singh, this help will make the difference between leaving the industry or rebuilding them.

“We need financial support to get back on our feet,” Gurjeet said. “Agriculture is in our blood. Before daddy came to Australia he was doing it in India. We don’t know anything else.

“No income and trying to rebuild? It is not possible.”
As ABGC continues to stand up for growers, Lowe stressed that the best thing Australians can do for the industry right now is to keep buying bananas.

“Remember that we have had difficult times in some parts of the growing area. If you see a banana on the shelf that has a slight mark on it, pick it up – it will still be great inside.

For more information:
Amy Lance
Australian Banana Farmers Council
Phone. : +61 439 005 946
[email protected]

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