Developing essential knowledge and effective management strategies for banana diseases remains a key focus for Hort Innovation’s investment of the banana R&D levy. Read more about these projects and their outcomes in the R&D snapshot below. To discover the latest strong results of the industry’s levy-funded marketing activities, head to the marketing snapshot.

INDUSTRY UPDATE

After you’ve read about the banana industry’s current levy investments and outcomes in this edition of Hortlink, check out Hort Innovation’s banana grower page. The grower page remains your one-stop-shop for industry information, including:

  • Important updates regarding the banana Strategic Investment Plan (SIP), as available. Developed in close consultation with growers and other industry stakeholders, the SIP is a document outlining the priorities for strategic investment in the industry. It is to be used like a ‘roadmap’ by the banana Strategic Investment Advisory Panels (SIAPs) when providing advice to Hort Innovation on potential levy investments.
  • The latest updates regarding the R&D and marketing banana SIAPs, including details on the panels’ recently appointed chair, Peter O’Brien, and summaries from all SIAP meetings to date. The R&D SIAP last met in October and will meet again in March, while the marketing SIAP most recently met in November, and will also convene again in March.
  • The 2015/16 banana industry annual report, detailing activities from the previous financial year.
  • Grower resources, events and articles of interest to the banana industry.

Any questions?

As well as the banana grower page, Hort Innovation Relationship Manager Astrid Hughes is always available to answer questions on the banana program, on 0405 306 334 or at astrid.hughes@horticulture.com.au. For questions relating specifically to the industry’s marketing, contact Hort Innovation Marketing Manager Elisa King.

R&D SNAPSHOT

NEW, ONGOING AND COMPLETED PROJECTS FOR THE INDUSTRY

Fusarium wilt Tropical Race 4 – biosecurity and sustainable solutions (BA14013)

Status: Near-completed project

What’s it all about? Due for completion early this year, this project has had a focus on biosecurity strategies around Fusarium wilt Tropical Race 4 (TR4), a damaging disease of Cavendish bananas. Its role has been to provide new science, information and practices to help growers avoid the fungus, contain its spread if it does occur, and manage an outbreak safely.

Its five broad aims have been to:

  • Improve on-farm biosecurity practices to reduce movement of inoculum and to develop medium and long-term solutions for monitoring, identifying infection, interventions and further management
  • Improve access to new disease-resistant/tolerant cultivars
  • Develop resilient disease-management options to minimise plant stress
  • Update banana biosecurity protocols
  • Facilitate adoption of research findings.

What’s the latest update? Recent work in the project has continued the identification of ‘movement pathways’ for the fungus that causes TR4, and improved biosecurity methods related to soil, water and people movement for the North Queensland banana industry. The researchers note that the founding principle here is exclusion of all non-essential vehicles, machinery, tools, people and planting material. Where this isn’t practical (such as for staff access, delivery of farm inputs and the like), then access should be subject to risk-management practices, implemented across established ‘access zones’ on a property. These practices include:

  • Use of dedicated vehicles, footwear and tools within specific property zones
  • Procedures and facilities for footwear change at zone boundaries
  • Use of footbaths, vehicle washing and disinfection procedures
  • Physical barriers such as fencing to minimise people and animal movement across zones
  • Use of certified clean planting material.

The researchers acknowledge that applying these practices on farms with non-contiguous parcels of land can be problematic, because of the need to duplicate facilities or machinery.

Other recent efforts in the project have included:

  • Investigation of early detection procedures, including measurement of leaf chlorophyll content and thermography tests
  • Work to validate a DNA soil detection test for the TR4 fungus
  • Contribution to the review and updating of diagnostic protocols for the TR4 fungus
  • Field testing of banana pseudostem destruction and decomposition methods, including the injection of pseudostems with Trichoderma fungi isolates for potential enhancement of decomposition
  • The continuation of work to determine the host status of common weed, grass and groundcover species in North Queensland
  • Research into the role of root exudates on the growth of TR4 on bananas
  • The continued development of banana production systems to suppress the TR4 fungus, focusing on the use of vegetated ground covers and nitrogen fertiliser management.

Work is continuing in these areas, and the project is also developing a best management plan (BMP) for on-farm biosecurity, which is soon to be released. Growers will be able to demonstrate their implementation of effective biosecurity practices using the BMP system.

Integrated management of Yellow Sigatoka (BA15003)

Status: Ongoing project

What’s it all about? Beginning in 2016, this project supports the work of the Yellow Sigatoka liaison officer of the Australian Banana Growers’ Council. This officer’s Queensland-based role includes educating growers on Yellow Sigatoka (leaf spot) symptoms and integrated control, and assisting growers to keep levels of disease on their plantations below prescribed levels.

The officer undertakes leaf spot inspections and alerts Biosecurity Queensland when any other suspected banana diseases are found.

What’s the latest update? In regards to disease surveillance, the liaison officer conducted on-farm visits to 192 commercial properties in the second half of 2016, representing 73 per cent of commercial banana growers in the northern quarantine zone. The liaison officer reports that there has been excellent voluntary compliance in leaf spot control (99 per cent with follow-up visits), and only two cases requiring referral to Biosecurity Queensland.

During this period, the officer also inspected backyard bananas on a small number of residential properties and inspected and destroyed two groups of feral banana plants showing leaf-spot symptoms.

Other activities of the liaison officer have included:

  • Provision of leaflets and posters to growers experiencing problems with leaf disease
  • Participation in a range of industry meetings and events, providing face-to-face advice to growers and input into other relevant industry projects
  • Continued collection of specimens of excessive Yellow Sigatoka and leaf speckle during on-farm inspections.
Cause and management of crown rot of banana (BA13011)

Status: Ongoing project

What’s it all about? This project aims to develop a greater understanding of the factors that contribute to crown end rot (CER), which has re-emerged as an important problem in the banana supply chain. The research seeks to improve pre- and post-harvest disease control and provide growers with information that will result reduced losses due to this disease.

What’s the latest update? The project has previously identified two pathogens to be commonly associated with CER: Musicillium theobromae and Fusarium spp. (Fusarium equiseti-incarnatum complex). Both are widely distributed in North Queensland growing environments, and neither appear to be influenced by seasonal conditions.

Now the Thielaviopsis musarum fungus has been detected for the first time from bunch stalks collected on-farm, as part of the project’s supply-chain assessments. The researchers note that the occurrence of Thielaviopsis musarum does appear to be influenced by seasonal conditions, being more prevalent in winter/spring harvested fruit. More investigation is needed.

In regards to the control of CER pathogens, the researchers have been looking at thiabendazole and prochloraz, the current industry standards. They report that a loss of sensitivity to thiabendazole is more common than a loss of sensitivity to prochloraz, particularly in coastal regions, and that while alternative treatments have been evaluated, none have been able to provide the same level of control. Different application methods and rates continue to be explored.

Finally, a simulated supply chain time trial seems to confirm that the longer fruit is held in storage before ripening, the greater the severity of CER – analysis of this data was ongoing at the time of reporting to Hort Innovation.


Fungicide testingStudying the effects of thiabendazole and prochloraz on CER organisms in the lab, part of project BA13011


Coordination of banana industry research and development (Panama TR4) (BA14012)

Status: Ongoing project

What’s it all about? The objective of this project is to coordinate the industry’s efforts, and build the knowledge and capacity, to manage and contain the Panama Tropical Race 4 (Panama TR4) fungal disease, first identified in Queensland in March 2015. The Australian Banana Growers’ Council’s Dr Rosie Godwin is employed under this project as the Banana Industry R&D Manager, to ensure R&D on Panama TR4 has tangible outcomes for banana growers that are adopted on-farm.

What’s the latest update? Now well into its second year, activities of the R&D Manager have included:

  • Input into R&D projects relevant to TR4 and other key banana diseases, including involvement in the industry’s Plant Protection Program and its new iteration (see ‘Other R&D projects of note’, below)
  • Work with Australia’s nursery industry to drive the transition and update of the accredited planting material program QBAN (Quality Banana Approved Nurseries)
  • Continued input into the organisation of the 2017 Banana Industry Congress program
  • Review of Biosecurity Queensland’s (BQ’s) risk management strategies of field activities, plus input into guidelines, factsheets and training material to ensure BQ’s containment management strategy for TR4 is effective
  • Continued consultation with growers on TR4 and other relevant industry issues, including advice on chemical permits and usage, a clean planting material scheme, coffee bean weevil and exotic weeds
  • Development of new training modules to be rolled out to industry, based on the scenario of ‘Living with TR4’
  • Participation and presentation at industry workshops.
Scoping herbicide impacts on banana production and soil health (BA13002)

Status: Completed project

What was it all about? Herbicides are applied in most banana plantations to reduce competition with weeds. This project sought to understand what impact – if any – these herbicides have on soil health, through their influence on soil microorganisms. There has been speculation that application of herbicides may impact on soil functions. In light of this, the researchers set out to quantify changes in soil biological communities following the application of registered herbicides, and to determine if there is potential for biological remediation of herbicides.

The project work has led to the production of a draft ‘herbicide risk tool’, which assesses the affect of the different herbicides available for use by the industry on different soil microbial communities. When available, the tool will assist growers to make decisions on which herbicides to use, given their specific circumstances with soil management.

In terms of results, investigations revealed that following single applications of registered herbicides, applied at recommended registered rates, there were only minimal and temporary impacts on soil microbial communities, while application above recommended rates led to greater reduction in soil biological functions.

There remain some questions about the effect of multiple applications, as only single applications of active ingredients in the herbicides were trialled in this project. Rotation of herbicide active ingredients, with a sufficient spell between applications, is likely to alter any potential impacts on soil organisms. This could be one strategy to manage herbicide impacts on soil biological functions, and reduce the risk of weed resistance to herbicides.

Full details will be found in the project’s final report, which will ultimately be available to order at www.horticulture.com.au/about/resources-publications-final-reports. Final reports are free to Australian horticulture levy payers, registered Hort Innovation members and industry representative bodies.

The Australian banana industry communications program (BA15005)

Status: Ongoing project

What’s it all about? This project is responsible for keeping Australian banana growers and other industry stakeholders informed about key industry issues and the latest R&D in a timely way. The ultimate goal is to facilitate the uptake of new information, technologies and practices – in turn helping growers forge more productive, profitable and resilient businesses.

What’s the latest update? Delivered by the Australian Banana Growers’ Council, the project continues to produce and maintain key communication channels, including but not limited to:

  • The quarterly Australian Bananas magazine, with digital issues accessible here
  • Industry e-bulletins, sent at least twice per month but delivered more frequently if needed. The e-bulletins continue to be available here
  • The Australian Banana Growers’ Council website, abgc.org.au, which is updated regularly with content
  • The Australian Banana Growers’ Council Facebook page
  • SMS notifications and phone calls to growers, used for urgent industry updates
  • Video content to help convey information to growers, available through the Australian Banana Growers’ Council YouTube page.

The project is also responsible for media relations services, creating and distributing media releases and fielding media enquiries.

Banana strategic industry development (BA13023)

Status: Ongoing project 

What’s it all about? This project supports the role of an industry strategy manager (ISM) within the Australian Banana Growers’ Council. With a focus on biosecurity and the environment, some specific activities of the role include:

  • Researching and preparing biosecurity and environmental strategies to support the banana industry to ensure it remains sustainable and profitable
  • Representing the banana industry in meetings and other stakeholder engagement mechanisms about issues relating to biosecurity and the environment
  • Communicating developments in the biosecurity and environmental areas to growers through field days, workshops, grower meetings and articles in industry publications – with the ultimate goal of increasing growers’ exposure to and adoption of new ideas, and facilitating grower input into policy and strategy development.

What’s the latest update? Recent activities of the ISM (Michelle McKinlay) have included the preparation of a water quality strategy for the industry, involving consultation with growers; work towards a biosecurity strategy framework; and continued participation in a number of industry projects and extension activities.

In 2016, there was also the development and September launch of the Better Bunch app, an electronic tool designed to help growers manage environmentally sustainable practices. The app is available free for Android and iOS platforms – don’t forget to download it from the Google Play or iTunes store.

NSW banana industry development officer (BA13025)

Status: Ongoing project

What’s it all about? This project supports the role of an industry development officer (IDO) for the New South Wales banana industry. The IDO’s goals are to develop greater cohesion in the industry, help build capacity, and to facilitate the development of skills and the uptake of new practices.

What’s the latest update? At the time of last reporting to Hort Innovation at the end of 2016, recent activities of the IDO (Matt Weinart) had included:

  • Publishing of the guide Subtropical banana nutrition – matching nutrition requirements to growth demands, available from Hort Innovation here. The guide is based on nutrition workshops held earlier in the project and is available for subtropical growers to download here. Topics include phenology, healthy soils, chemical elements and designing a banana nutrition program.
  • Continued surveying of growers and supply chain mapping, which will be ongoing until the project’s end later this year
  • Facilitation of industry workshops, including one on Panama TR4 biosecurity, and contribution to banana roadshow events
  • Collaboration with other projects, including the Banana Plant Protection Program (BA10020) to extend planting material to growers for trial
  • Continuation of trials and data collection, including work to optimise the use of banana weevil lure and trap systems, and the use of two soil-health demonstration sites at Woolgoolga and Mullumbimby, with results to be published in future editions of Hortlink.
Other R&D projects of note…
  • Banana Plant Protection Program (BA10020), which has recently concluded. With a focus on banana plant health, the program was made up of a number of sub-projects including the evaluation of new varieties for pathogen resistance and desirable consumer traits; work to improve prevention, detection and early responses to pest incursions; and the provision of cost-effective and sustainable management options for priority pests and diseases. A full wrap-up will be provided in the next edition of Hortlink, when the project’s final report is available.
  • Improved plant protection for the banana industry (BA16001), which is currently being contracted. Carrying on from the Banana Plant Protection Program, it will continue to expand on plant protection for the banana industry through access to banana varieties with improved pest and disease traits; access to clean planting material that has been pathogen tested; enhanced diagnostic capacity for endemic and exotic threats; and improved pest and disease management.
  • National banana bunchy top virus program – Phase 3 – QLD (BA15006) and National banana bunchy top virus program – Phase 3 – NSW (BA15007). With banana bunchy top virus the most serious viral disease of bananas, these projects represent the third phase in a 10-year-plan aimed at eradicating the disease from Australia. Project activities are designed to protect uninfested areas; remove infestation from farms and protect from reinfestation; and to reduce the disease range. The essential strategy is a risk-based surveillance and plant rogueing program, along with awareness activities. This is being enhanced with a cloud-based Geographic Information System (GIS) that will simplify mapping, planning, recording and reporting.At the time of writing, an independent review of the projects was in the process of being finalised, with further project details to be provided in future editions of Hortlink.
  • Fusarium wilt Tropical Race 4 research program (BA14014), an ongoing project that seeks to provide medium- and long-term solutions for banana growers to allow continued profitable production, should Fusarium wilt become widespread in the North Queensland banana industry. Key goals of the project are to: improve cultivar resistance, by developing and identifying TR4-resistant varieties; build resilient banana production systems, by developing a better understanding of the TR4 pathogen and its interactions with plants and soils; and to improve on-farm biosecurity practices.
  • Horticulture Nuffield Scholarships 2016/2017/2018 (BA15004), which provides funding to support Nuffield Scholars in the banana industry. Nuffield Scholarships are a chance for Australians in agriculture to grow their practical knowledge and a broad variety of skills, while heading overseas to study a topic related to their industry. The 2016 scholar under this project was organic banana grower Matthew Abbott from Mena Creek, Queensland. Read more about Matthew and his project in his profile at the bottom of this page.
  • Banana industry congress 2017 (BA16700), which is responsible for the industry’s biennial Australian Banana Industry Congress, to be held in Sydney in June this year. The event is a chance for the latest banana R&D and marketing programs and results to be shared with industry. For further information, visit the congress website here.

MARKETING SNAPSHOT

THE LATEST ACTIVITY THAT’S GROWING THE INDUSTRY

The industry’s marketing levy supports a range of ongoing activity to drive awareness and increase banana consumption.

Social media

Across Facebook (www.facebook.com/AustralianBananas) and Instagram (@australianbananas), the social media program continues to have a focus on four key ‘pillars’ of messaging content: fun fruit, energy/nutrition, a-peeling snacks and the growers behind the produce.

During November 2016, all key social media metrics for Australian Bananas (including engagement with audience, the number of people reached, and total impressions) exceeded those from all previous months on record. December improved again on these results, increasing maximum engagement with social media audiences by a solid 10 per cent, from 26 per cent to 36 per cent total.

While January 2017 data was still being analysed at the time of writing, there were a number of strong points of engagement between consumers and Australian Bananas messaging during the month. On January 17, for example, the Facebook page capitalised on a popular ‘meme’ (a rapidly-circulating internet phenomenon, in this case a clip of a man, dubbed ‘Salt Bae’ exuberantly sprinkling salt onto steak). Changing the meme from ‘Salt Bae’ to ‘Banana Bae’, the clip showed the man sprinkling sliced banana over an implied breakfast instead. The audience response was strong – the post reached over 700,000 people and the clip was viewed over 442,000 times. The post also drew close to 2000 ‘likes’, had 190 shares and over 590 people took time out their day to leave a comments, engaging with the Australian Bananas brand.

Other top-performing posts in January included a banana smoothie recipe video involving Charles, a fifth-generation banana farmer, on Australia Day.


Facebook-posts

Recent popular posts helping engage Australian consumers with bananas, from the Australian Bananas Facebook page


Australian Bananas merchandise

The Australian Bananas brand has a host of bright, branded merchandise that has been well represented over the last three months.

Through this merchandise, Australian Bananas even made it all the way down to Antarctica towards the end of 2016, thanks to Thomas Bauer, an Antarctic tour guide who expressed interest in promoting the fruit.

In early January this year, 13 Tully school kids represented Far North Queensland in the Brisbane International Tennis Schools Challenge, which included playing an exhibition match on the Pat Rafter Arena at the Queensland Tennis Centre. They were great representatives for Australian Bananas in their yellow banana shirts during the event.


Banana @ Antarctica

Australian Bananas in Antarctica (above) and at the tennis (below)

Banana Tennis


Australian Bananas events

In recent months, Australian Bananas sponsored and/or supplied merchandise to the below events:

  • Amy’s Ride, held in Adelaide on November 6, 2016. Australian Bananas provided bananas for the nearly 2000 cyclists that took part in the event, which was raising funds for the Amy Gillett Foundation – a national organisation with a mission to reduce the incidence of serious injury and death of bike riders in Australia.
  • The JP Morgan Corporate Challenge, held in Sydney on November 9, 2016. Australian Bananas provided bananas for this team race event in Centennial Park, which had the largest number of registered runners JPMCC Sydney has ever had at just over 8500 people signing up.
  • The Gatorade Triathlon Series, with five events held from November 2016 to March 2017 in Victoria. Again, Australian bananas were handed out to competitors at the finish line.
  • The Nambucca Banana Hurl, held in conjunction with New South Wales’ running even the Macksville Gift in November 2016. The banana hurl involved participants seeing how far they could throw a banana, with Australian Bananas sponsoring the event and also supplying banana-branded merchandise.
  • The Aron Price Junior Golf Tournament, held on January 22 this year at Kereela Golf Course in New South Wales. More than 60 young players took part, with Australian Bananas providing drink bottles for competitors, and hats and shirts for event volunteers.
  • The Tumby Bay Family Mission kids’ holiday program, which is held for a week every January in South Australia. For 2017 the theme was ‘Going Bananas’, with around 120 children aged from five to 16 attending each day. Australian Bananas supplied the kids with pencil cases and bottles.
PR activity

As reported in the last edition of Hortlink, the Australian Bananas PR strategy for 2016/17 has a focus on young families and people aged 25-39, encouraging them to snack on the fruit more frequently. Key objectives of the campaign are to:

  • Build awareness of the health and nutrition benefits of bananas
  • Maintain bananas as the country’s top snack food
  • Encourage parents to include bananas in their families’ diets
  • Drive regularity of consumption.

The PR campaign also involves an always-on, reactive press office. This means all mentions of bananas in traditional and social media channels are monitored and responded to accordingly. From the start of this financial year in July to January this year, 92 pieces of coverage have so far been achieved across print, online, television and social media, generating a total audience reach of 6,569,048 people and a social media reach of 1,432,389.

Australian Bananas ambassadors

As part of the industry’s PR activity, Australian Bananas ambassador Susie Burrell, a leading dietitian, has continued to develop content and post about bananas on her popular blog and social media accounts. As of December, Susie had posted content featuring bananas to her Instagram page six times and to her Facebook page eight times. With an average monthly reach of over 722,000 people on her website, her latest blog post entitled The best foods to eat for training was published during January, with bananas featured prominently.

The Australian Bananas events ambassador is Melbourne Storm rugby league player Billy Slater. He’s also been posting about his love of bananas on social media, with his posts in November 2016 and January this year having combined ‘likes, comments, shares’ of over 15,200. A banana split video he posted has alone has been viewed over 43,000 times.


Billy-and-Susie

Bananas Australia ambassador Billy Slater posting about his love of bananas on social media (left) and ambassador Susie Burrell’s recent banana-centric blog post


New and upcoming activity

Television advertising

Early this year there will be two heavy bursts of TV advertising for Australian Bananas. The first burst began on February 19 and will run into March, aligned with key programming including My Kitchen Rules, Married At First Sight, 800 Words and the revamped Biggest Loser series. It also times well with the back-to-school period. The second burst is scheduled for April and May.

Metro advertising is running in all major cities across major networks Seven, Nine and Ten, and the regional buy will have the same heavyweight exposure in all major regional areas. The television investment will also reach the national pay TV audiences, with pay TV now penetrating into 30 per cent of Australian households.

Out of home advertising

Bus, train and retail out-of-home advertising will form the backbone of on-the-ground and point-of-sale communications around Australian Bananas. Beginning on February 19 and running until May 14 this year, the retail activity will be in-market for the longest duration and feature digital poster panels. The majority of these will appear right in front of supermarkets in shopping centres, as a last reminder point for consumers entering Coles, Woolworths and Aldi stores. Other panels will appear throughout the shopping centres to drive audience reach, frequency and awareness for those people not necessarily out shopping for groceries. There will be a total of 570 digital panels, with all activity time targeted to appear during key snacking times (mid-morning and afternoon) and high footfall periods.

The transit advertising will drive banana awareness in other highly visible out-of-home environments centred around key public transport routes. Bus activity is running from February 19 to the week of April 9 (with a high chance of bonus activity). Panels will feature on bus sides and backs in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, with 235 panels in total.

Train activity is running from February 26 to the week of May 21 (also with a high chance of bonus activity) in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Online advertising (desktop, tablet and mobile)

The online investment across the campaign will be a two-fold job to:

  • Extend the visibility of the TV advertising content to audiences across highly visited online environments, such as premium catch-up TV services, to drive high-reaching awareness
  • Deliver Australian Bananas campaign messages through mobile phone banner ads, to ensure the messaging stands out from the advertising clutter and provides the campaign’s core audience with a fun and highly engaging content.

Social media ‘influencers’

Outside of the ‘always on’ Facebook and Instagram activity described above, Australian Bananas will also harness the power of key social media influencers in the food, parenting and sports categories. These influencers will post images of themselves enjoying bananas on their own social media platforms, with activity running for two months from the end of February.

Bounty Bags for new families

The Bounty New Mother bags reach women with new babies. Distributed through hospitals nationally by midwives and Bounty representatives, the bags reach 76 per cent of new mothers around Australia. Starting in February, an Australian Bananas banana case will be included in the bag and distributed to 228,000 new mothers over a 12-month period. There will also be a leaflet within the case extolling the benefits of bananas as both a baby’s first food and an ideal snack for busy mothers.


Bounty Bag Case

New mums will receive this banana case and leaflet through Bounty New Mother bags


Feast of the Senses and a Guinness World Record

The 2017 Feast of the Senses festival will be held in Innisfail, Queensland, from March 23 to 28. This year, organisers are attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the longest banana split, which has stood since 1988. There will be an expected 8000 people attempting to make an 8km banana split, with each of the helpers decked out in an Australian Bananas cap.

FACES OF HORTICULTURE

MATT ABBOTT, NUFFIELD SCHOLAR – RABBIT ORGANICS, QLD

With a passion for growing and a thirst for knowledge, Matt Abbott is a keen Nuffield Scholar out to make a difference in Australia’s banana industry.

What is the Nuffield Scholarship program?

Matt’s Nuffield Scholarship was awarded in 2016, and is funded by Hort Innovation using the banana R&D levy and contributions from the Australian Government. “The Nuffield program is all about scholars increasing practical farming knowledge, building management skills, and studying topics of relevance to their industry,” Matt said. Participants head overseas to study agriculture practices in different parts of the world, and then bring that knowledge home to share with others.

As an organic banana grower, Matt’s scholarship has a focus on organic farming and sustainable practices here and overseas. He’s also been keen to look at Panama Tropical Race 4 (TR4) and the varieties and practices used to combat it, as well as product branding and marketing for both organic and conventionally grown fruit.

“Before I became a Nuffield Scholar I’d heard other scholars talk at industry events about how eye-opening and worthwhile the experience was. It seemed fantastic, but I never thought I could take time away from the family business to take part myself. How wrong I was,” Matt said.

“What’s really stood out for me is that, as a grower, you sort of get stuck in your own little world. But getting off the farm is so valuable. You get out of your bubble and it really changes the way you look at things, plus it opens up opportunities and ideas you and others in your industry can move forward with.”

Lessons from international agriculture

As part of his Nuffield Scholarship, Matt took part in the Global Focus Program (GFP) during June, July and August last year. “The GFP involved six weeks of travelling in a group of about 10 scholars to see growing practices and technologies from around the world up close. It was a real snapshot of international agriculture. I took part in a program that went to India, Qatar, France, Turkey and parts of America – and it really put things in perspective for me,” Matt said.

“One thing I’d definitely share with other growers is how, when you look at what’s going on overseas, Australia is right up there in horticulture. We’re tracking really well with our innovation, with our practices and with our knowledge. It was so interesting to understand just how much we have going on here. It also reinforced how lucky we are in Australia with the resources, land and opportunities we have.”

Matt became particularly interested in understanding sustainable water use overseas. “Water is an issue everywhere in the world, that much was very clear,” he said. “I’m looking into this more with my personal studies, leading up to the completion of my Nuffield project this year.”

Matt will present the findings from his Nuffield Scholarship project at the 2017 Nuffield Australia National Conference, to be held in Darwin this September. He will also provide information directly to banana growers at industry events and through industry communication channels.

Learning and inspiring together

As well as developing knowledge and skills for scholars and their industries back home, the Nuffield program is also about forming connections and sharing ideas.

“I’ve now formed close bonds with scholars and people from all over the world, from all kinds of industries. This will really help with the sharing of ideas and information,” Matt said. “Forming connections like these can give you the confidence to try new things, and have a play around with ideas in your business. You can talk through ideas, get reassurance, and be inspired – for me it’s reinforced the idea that having a go doesn’t mean you’ll succeed every time, but sooner or later you’ll hit on something good. You can’t shy away from trying to be innovative.”

Matt also says growers shouldn’t shy away from taking part in their industry. “It’s important that banana growers know they can be involved in the direction the industry takes,” he said.

On March 9, growers have an opportunity to attend a workshop to feed into the revised banana industry Strategic Investment Plan, being developed by Hort Innovation in consultation with industry (more info here). Growers are also welcome to submit ideas for new R&D concepts any time to Hort Innovation here.

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