Bananas an opportunity for region

Bananas, so often associated with warm tropical climates on the equator, may prove to be another cropping opportunity for enterprising horticulturalists from Northland to Gisborne.

New Zealanders have an appetite for the yellow fruit, chomping through a whopping 18kg per capita a year, about $140 million worth that puts this country at top of the global list for banana consumption. But the world’s annual 145 million tonne banana crops are also under siege.

After years of staving off various diseases and pests with an assortment of chemical controls, crops around the world are succumbing to a Fusarium disease, known as Tropical race 4.

The fungal infection enters the crop’s roots, spreading up through the leaf tissue causing it to wilt and die. But just as global warming is being identified as the biggest threat facing the planet, it is also bringing some unexpected opportunities in terms of what crops can be grown where, and in the case of New Zealand, bananas are one of those opportunities. The semi-tropical climate of Northland is proving an excellent hub for a band of enthusiastic and increasingly commercially focused banana growers, headed up through the Tropical Fruit Growers of NZ group.

Farming on a 40ha property near Parua Bay in Northland, Hugh Rose, head of Tropical Fruit Growers of NZ has a veritable fruit bowl of tropical produce growing.

Varied varieties of exotic fruit compete for visitors’ taste-buds, ranging from pineapples to bananas. He classes bananas as the easiest crop in the world to grow, benefiting from New Zealand’s low disease and pest levels compared to the tropics, and capable of producing fruit almost constantly through the year once temperatures exceed 14C. With 17 varieties of the popular fruit growing, there is increasing consumer interest in the New Zealand sourced bananas that have a ready market at about $8 a kg through Whangarei’s farmers’ market.

“And with the number of enthusiasts we now have on board, there should be enough bananas growing now for Northland to be self-sufficient in a couple of years.”

His calculations per hectare with 1500 plants a hectare in the ground could easily result in over 15,000kg of bananas a year. Even at $2 a kg this returns $30,000 a hectare.

“We have growers producing bananas in Invercargill, admittedly under tunnel shelter, but there are growers throughout Northland, Bay of Plenty, down to Gisborne all producing good crops.” As a highly water efficient, funnel shaped plant they do not require much irrigation, grow well on most soil types and are tolerant of many pests and diseases.

Pineapples, coffee and a little known Peruvian fruit called lucuma all have potential in the sub-tropical regions throughout New Zealand.

Mr Rose is excited by the growing level of experimentation by enthusiasts and the knowledge that is being acquired by them.

Bananas, so often associated with warm tropical climates on the equator, may prove to be another cropping opportunity for enterprising horticulturalists from Northland to Gisborne.

New Zealanders have an appetite for the yellow fruit, chomping through a whopping 18kg per capita a year, about $140 million worth that puts this country at top of the global list for banana consumption. But the world’s annual 145 million tonne banana crops are also under siege.

After years of staving off various diseases and pests with an assortment of chemical controls, crops around the world are succumbing to a Fusarium disease, known as Tropical race 4.

The fungal infection enters the crop’s roots, spreading up through the leaf tissue causing it to wilt and die. But just as global warming is being identified as the biggest threat facing the planet, it is also bringing some unexpected opportunities in terms of what crops can be grown where, and in the case of New Zealand, bananas are one of those opportunities. The semi-tropical climate of Northland is proving an excellent hub for a band of enthusiastic and increasingly commercially focused banana growers, headed up through the Tropical Fruit Growers of NZ group.

Farming on a 40ha property near Parua Bay in Northland, Hugh Rose, head of Tropical Fruit Growers of NZ has a veritable fruit bowl of tropical produce growing.

Varied varieties of exotic fruit compete for visitors’ taste-buds, ranging from pineapples to bananas. He classes bananas as the easiest crop in the world to grow, benefiting from New Zealand’s low disease and pest levels compared to the tropics, and capable of producing fruit almost constantly through the year once temperatures exceed 14C. With 17 varieties of the popular fruit growing, there is increasing consumer interest in the New Zealand sourced bananas that have a ready market at about $8 a kg through Whangarei’s farmers’ market.

“And with the number of enthusiasts we now have on board, there should be enough bananas growing now for Northland to be self-sufficient in a couple of years.”

His calculations per hectare with 1500 plants a hectare in the ground could easily result in over 15,000kg of bananas a year. Even at $2 a kg this returns $30,000 a hectare.

“We have growers producing bananas in Invercargill, admittedly under tunnel shelter, but there are growers throughout Northland, Bay of Plenty, down to Gisborne all producing good crops.” As a highly water efficient, funnel shaped plant they do not require much irrigation, grow well on most soil types and are tolerant of many pests and diseases.

Pineapples, coffee and a little known Peruvian fruit called lucuma all have potential in the sub-tropical regions throughout New Zealand.

Mr Rose is excited by the growing level of experimentation by enthusiasts and the knowledge that is being acquired by them.

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