Hort Innovation continues to invest the banana R&D levy in a number of key projects, including vital work into understanding and developing management strategies for a variety of banana diseases. Read more in the R&D snapshot below. To discover the latest strong results of the industry’s levy-funded marketing activities, check out the marketing snapshot.

INDUSTRY UPDATE

Following first meetings back in May and June, the banana R&D Strategic Investment Advisory Panel (SIAP) convened on October 31 and the marketing SIAP met on November 1. Meeting summaries will continue to be made available on Hort Innovation’s Banana grower page.

The selection process for appointing an independent chair for the SIAPs has also recently been completed, with information on the chair to be made available on the grower page shortly.

The Strategic Investment Plan

A Strategic Investment Plan (SIP) is the roadmap that helps ensure levy investment decisions align with individual industry priorities. It is used to guide decision-making in levy spending, and represents a balanced view of stakeholders in the industry.

Hort Innovation is currently consulting with growers and other industry stakeholders to finalise new SIPs for each industry by the end of the calendar year.

To learn more about the SIP process, visit Hort Innovation’s SIP Portal.

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. 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

Banana Plant Protection Program (BA10020)

Status: Extended project, due for completion at the end of 2016

What’s it all about? This project brings together a range of research activities and organisations in a program approach for a longer-term focus on banana plant health. There are a number of sub-projects, including:

  • Resistant varieties and consumer choice. This sub-project has a focus on the evaluation of new pathogen-tested planting material for disease and pest resistance traits.
  • Safeguarding production and markets. This sub-project has the aim of improving capacity for prevention, detection, identification and effective, coordinated early responses to pest incursions. It also maintains and provides safe access to banana germplasm, and facilitates access to new varieties.
  • Sustainable production systems. This sub-project focuses on improving productivity through provision of cost-effective and sustainable management options for priority pests and diseases.
  • Building science and communication. This sub-project supports the development of networked industry-science capacity and strong communication.

What’s the latest update? The field evaluation of a multitude of resistant crop varieties continues. Back in June, 27 varieties were planted as part of a screening trial for TR4 in the Northern Territory, with first symptoms expected to start showing towards the end of the year.


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One of the banana varieties planted as part of the TR4 screening trial in the Northern Territory


In regards to safeguarding production and markets:

  • The program’s quarantine tissue culture laboratory at Maroochy Research Station has been maintained
  • A post-entry quarantine glasshouse screening facility, and diagnostics laboratory, were established and accredited for the safe post-entry evaluation of new banana cultivars entering the country
  • There has been ongoing testing of banana planting material for viruses, bacteria and phytoplasmas.

A full wrap-up will be provided when the project’s final report is available.

In relation to sustainable production systems, work into different lures and traps for weevil borer (Cosmopolites sordidus) control in Far North Queensland and the subtropics has been completed.

Work in Queensland was across various banana varieties, testing two commercially available pheromone lures for the borer, and two trap designs, against the traditional pseudostem trap used for monitoring weevils. No significant difference in weevil capture numbers were identified between lures and trap combinations across the trials. The researchers noted that sordidin-baited pheromone traps could be a useful tool for monitoring and mass trapping of weevil borers in bananas throughout Australia, though further research is required to isolate the most effective commercial lure and development of a labour efficient trap design suitable for Australia’s banana production systems.

Work in New South Wales compared different lure and trap systems, including a locally produced prototype trap designed to reduce beneficial insect bycatch and pseudostem baits, and pheromone-based lures not available in Australia at the time. Further work was needed to optimise the local prototype’s design, but the research suggested pheromone lures were effective as a lure for the weevils, and more effective and less labour intensive than the industry standard of pseudostem baits.

Due to this research and a partnership with Bugs for Bugs, an aggregation pheromone for the weevil borer is commercially available in Australia for the first time. This is a valuable tool for IPM in bananas as some of the chemicals currently used to manage weevil borer can flare other banana pests, especially mites. Growers in all eastern growing regions are now trialling the lures to either monitor or manage weevil borer.

 

Communications project for the banana industry (BA13003) and The Australian banana industry communications program (BA15005)

Status: Communications project for the banana industry (BA13003) is now a completed project, being continued by new project The Australian banana industry communications program (BA15005)

What’s it all about? The former project did – and the new project will continue to – keep Australian banana growers and other industry stakeholders informed about key industry issues and the latest R&D updates in a timely way. Among other aims, the ultimate goal of both projects has been, and will be, to assist growers in making production decisions, and to build industry capacity, productivity and profitability.

What’s the latest update? Project BA13003 began in March 2014 and concluded at the end of June 2016. Delivered by the Australian Banana Growers’ Council, it included:

  • Three editions of Australian Bananas magazine each year, with back-issues available to download here
  • The hard-copy Australian Banana News newsletter, during the first half of the project (the last edition was in August 2015, and back-issues are available here)
  • Industry e-bulletins, sent at least twice per month but delivered more frequently as needed, such as during the outbreak of Panama Tropical Race 4 (Panama TR4) during the project period. The e-bulletins continue to be available here
  • Regular content updates to the www.abgc.org.au website
  • SMS notifications (and some phone calls) to growers for urgent industry updates
  • Media relations services, with the project averaging two media releases per month to journalists and editors
  • Social media (Facebook), introduced in direct response to the need for updates post-Panama TR4 outbreak
  • Video content to help convey information to growers, available through the Australian Banana Growers’ Council YouTube page.

Full details can be found in the project’s final report, which is available to order at http://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).


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An edition of Australian Bananas magazine from 2015, part of project BA13003


New project BA15005 is continuing with communications activities to help growers and other stakeholders gain knowledge and skills to forge more productive, profitable and resilient businesses.

 

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? With the first year of the project now complete, the R&D Manager’s work is ongoing. Some of the outcomes from recent months include:

  • A containment strategy being put in place, supported by Hort Innovation funded projects and work by the Australian Banana Growers’ Council.
  • A growth in industry knowledge of Panama TR4’s spread and management. Over the past year, 40 workshops have been conducted, totalling almost 290 participants (representing over 80 per cent of North Queensland banana growers). Evaluations after these workshops showed Panama TR4 knowledge and biosecurity understanding was boosted for 75 per cent of participants. Plus there have been 55 one-on-one farm visits and written advice has also been supplied to 50 farms.
  • The R&D Manager participating at various R&D advisory meetings and project reference groups, making linkages with international R&D providers, and contributing to the uptake and adoption of R&D.

 

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

Status: Ongoing project

What’s it all about? Now into the final year of its two-year run, this project has a focus on biosecurity strategies around Fusarium wilt Tropical Race 4, a damaging disease of Cavendish bananas. It will 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 are 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? No new milestone report was due in the period since the last edition of Hortlink (Winter 2016). At the time of last reporting activity was focused on sanitiser research trials, commencing early detection trials, developing water and soil testing protocols and identifying weeds as potential fungus hosts. Banana pseudostem destruction trials and soil ecology suppression studies were also underway, as was the development of a best-management biosecurity plan.

 

Scoping herbicide impacts on banana production and soil health (BA13002)

Status: Ongoing project, due for completion at the end of 2016

What’s it all about? This project aims to understand how registered herbicides for the banana industry affect soil health, and how this relates to banana productivity.

What’s the latest update? No new milestone report was due in the period since the last edition of Hortlink (Winter 2016). At the time of last reporting, the composition, diversity and function of soil microbial communities was continuing to be analysed. Next-generation sequencing had allowed identification of a range of microbial groups prevalent in banana-producing soils. It was intended that information gathered through this work would facilitate the preparation of a draft herbicide analysis tool for growers.

One of the tentative key findings to date had been that single applications of herbicides used at manufacturer recommended rates had only minimal impact on soil biology. Some herbicides did temporarily affect some soil functions (particularly those involving soil fungi) around 30 days after application, but these functions were restored by 60 days after application. Further soil analysis was required to confirm these observations.

 

Integrated management of Yellow Sigatoka (BA15003)

Status: Ongoing project

What’s it all about? Beginning at the start of 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 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. The officer also provides information to growers, researchers and supply-chain businesses to improve integrated Sigatoka control.

What’s the latest update? No new milestone report was due in the period since the last edition of Hortlink (Winter 2016). At the time of last reporting, covering the first five months of the project:

 

  • A work plan had been developed along with education material and activities for the promotion of on-farm best-practice disease management.
  • On-farm inspections had been carried out on 196 (75 per cent) of commercial-growing properties in the northern quarantine zone, as well as residential properties with backyard bananas. With follow-up visits, 98 per cent of the commercial growers were voluntarily compliant with relevant requirements.
  • Collection of specimens of excessive Yellow Sigatoka and leaf speckle had also been undertaken, with 15 lead samples submitted to the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

 

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 contributing to crown end rot (CER) of banana, which has re-emerged as an important problem in the supply chain. It seeks to improve pre- and post-harvest disease control and provide growers with information that will result in reduced losses due to this disease.

What’s the latest update? No new milestone report was due in the period since the last edition of Hortlink (Winter 2016). At the time of last reporting, the first round of assessments involving key supply chain members had been completed, with fungal organisms recovered from these assessments tested to confirm their pathogenicity. The assessment showed that at some point every supply chain has had incidences of CER with differing severities, and it was noted that time in the supply chain was a key driver in the development of CER symptoms.

Field inoculum monitoring continued, with samples taken from blocks treated with fungicides aerially only, or with a combination of aerial and under-canopy applications. The researchers reported that the presence or frequency of CER organisms appeared to be lower when the combination of aerial and ground fungicide applications was employed.

Key findings had been reported to key industry sectors, including that:

  • Musicillium theobromae and Fusarium spp. (Fusarium equiseti-incarnatum complex) were most frequently associated with the incidence of CER, and did not appear to be influenced by seasonal conditions
  • CER caused by Colletotrichum musae appeared to be the most aggressive in pathogenicity testing, however it was not recovered from symptomatic CER tissue in the market place, only from damaged or injured crowns in the field.

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Crown end rot symptoms


 

Other R&D projects of note…

» National banana bunchy top virus program – Phase 3 – QLD (BA15006) and National banana bunchy top virus program – Phase 3 – NSW (BA15007), both recently commenced.

» 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.

» National banana development and extension project (BA13004), which delivered information from past, current and future research projects to growers and was recently completed (with a final report to be made available via http://horticulture.com.au/about/resources-publications-final-reports).

» NSW banana industry development officer (BA13025), which supports the role of an industry develop officer (Matt Weinart) to develop greater cohesion in the New South Wales and sub-tropic banana industries so that needs and issues are better able to be articulated and served.

» Horticulture Nuffield Scholarships 2016/2017/2018 (BA15004), which will support Nuffield Scholars in projects relevant to the banana industry.

» Review of the biosecurity plan for the banana industry (BA15001), which is now due to begin.

» Banana industry congress 2017 (BA16700), which is to be held in Sydney in June next year.

MARKETING SNAPSHOT

THE LATEST ACTIVITY THAT’S GROWING THE INDUSTRY

Television campaign

The most recent Australian Bananas TV campaign was aired from August 21 to September 18, with one 30-second and one 15-second spot being run across metro networks Seven, Nine and Ten, regional networks SCA, Prime, and WIN-NBN, and national network MCN (Foxtel).

The ads retained the iconic ‘Make Your Body Sing’ jingle and built on the successful theme of bananas as nature’s non-stop energy snack. They showed a fast-moving montage of people powering through their day thanks to the energy burst they get from bananas.

During the campaign period the networks had some of their strongest shows airing, with TV spots bought during The Block and Married At First Sight, which were the highest-rating programs for the campaign’s demographic. The campaign also regularly appeared during programs including Home & Away, Nine News, 60 Minutes and Australian Survivor to deliver consistent audience reach.

The TV campaign’s aim was to reach between 35 and 40 per cent of people aged 25 to 49 years at least three times over the period. This was delivered in all metro regions, and significantly over-delivered in regional areas, where the campaign reached as much as 65 per cent of the target audience at least three times.

 

Out-of-home advertising

To help drive frequency of message, an out of home campaign was also run.

  • Bus panels (side and backs) featured from September 4 to 25 across five capital cities.
  • For the first time ever, train panels were part of the advertising strategy. They were in effect from August 28 to October 30, with a total of 28 panels across Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne (the great news here is that the campaign received five weeks of bonus activity).
  • Over a 12-week period, 471 panels were also placed in shopping centres in proximity to grocery stores. A percentage of these panels featured time-targeted creative, displaying campaign messaging relevant to the time of day (for example, ‘Got the mid-morning munchies?’).

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Out-of-home advertising on public transport (above) and one of the time-target displays in a metro shopping centre

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Digital advertising (desktop, tablet and mobile phone advertising)

Digital advertising was run from August to October across desktop, tablet and mobile phone devices, to continue to drive awareness and extend campaign messaging.

This involved:

  • Advertising spots across News Corp sites from August 15 to September 26, targeting health-conscious audiences and entertainment and lifestyle content, and delivering over 1.88 million impressions.
  • Video advertising from August 15 to October 17, served to over 2.16 million people (with a strong result of, on average, over 78 per cent of people watching the ad through to completion).
  • Advertising on mobile devices from August 15 to October 2, targeting mobile devices with less than 20 per cent battery and serving creative tailored to that experience of having low energy.
  • GumGum activity, from August 15 to October 2. GumGum uses keyword and image-targeting technology to deliver highly visible and relevant advertising in a context where it is best received (for example, someone searching ‘smoothie recipes’ would be served a banana ad). The campaign achieved just under one million impressions and had a click-through rate well above the industry benchmark.
  • An influencer campaign, involving 19 influential sports stars, active mums and foodies have posting about bananas on social media to keep bananas top of mind. This activity ran from August 15 to September 18, and had a reach of over 1.94 million consumers.

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Banana advertising targeting mobile phones with low battery (left), a banana ad targeted to someone looking at banana recipes, part of the campaign’s GumGum activity (centre) and social influencer activity as part of the advertising campaign (right)


 

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.

Using both organic and paid media, the campaign aims to reach at least one million consumers each month and continues to exceed this. In September, there was an organic reach of over 110,000 users and a paid reach of over 1.5 million – meaning plenty of eyes on the Australian Bananas’ great content including easy recipes, serving suggestions, video and animation, and footage direct from growers.

 

PR activity

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.

So far, Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian Glenn Cardwell has developed ‘15 reasons Australian Bananas are so A-pealing’. Along with 10 new banana recipes, this selection of tips will continue to be sent to key lifestyle, food, health and news media and bloggers throughout the year to drive coverage.

Susie Burrell has also been engaged as the Australian Bananas ambassador for the next two years. Susie is one of Australia’s leading dietitians who runs her own healthy eating blog and social media accounts with strong followings. She is regularly quoted in the media, and is a highly qualified authority to talk about the health credentials of Australian Bananas. Susie is developing blog and social posts, healthy recipes and other content for the PR campaign.

Susie has been doing an amazing job promoting bananas, so much so that over half a million people have already been reached with her activity and over half a million people with her bonus activity, like the below Halloween recipe –  that’s over one million consumers.


halloween-coverageBanana-centric Halloween content from Susie Burrell


The PR campaign also involves an always-on, reactive press office for the first time. This means all mentions of bananas in traditional and social media channels are monitored and responded to accordingly. For example, when some of the Australian Olympic athletes mentioned during interviews that they included bananas as part of their training routine, they were supplied packs of banana merchandise to say thanks and to encourage continued support. And when a nutritionist in the US told people to beware of consuming bananas for breakfast, Glenn Cardwell developed an opinion article explaining why bananas are nature’s perfect food for breakfast, which was distributed to key media.

 

Australian Bananas events

» Little BIG DASH is a family-focused event where parents and kids aged five to 15 participate in an obstacle course together, held in three different states. Australian Bananas sponsored the breakfast tent at the Sydney event on August 19, with 6000 parents and kids taking part. All participants and supporters enjoyed a free breakfast, including plenty of fresh bananas. Australian Bananas also sponsored the breakfast tent at the Melbourne event on September 25 and at the Brisbane event on July 24.


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Australian Bananas at one of the Little BIG DASH events


» The Summer Fruit Festival, held in Sydney on October 27 to 30, celebrated the beginning of summer and promoted healthy living. Australian Bananas had a stand at the event, where consumers could come and taste a delicious banana smoothie, learn all about bananas, and take part in a fun ‘guess the weight of the bananas’ competition. Thank you to Mackays Marketing for supplying bananas, Tropicana for supplying the 61kg bunch of bananas for the competition, and Nutrano for the banana bunch stand.


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Australia Bananas at the Summer Fruit Festival (above and below) – images courtesy of Good Fruit & Vegetables

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GROWER PROFILE

CARLY ROCCA, SPRING CREEK PRODUCE, QLD

With her business’s increasing focus on Lady Finger bananas, Carly Rocca is on a mission to educate banana lovers about the luxurious variety.

In 2010, Carly and her husband, Dino, bought his brother’s and parents’ share of Spring Creek Produce, based in Tolga, Queensland. Since taking over the day-to-day running of the property, which has been in Dino’s family since the early 1960s, the couple have made one big change: “While we were predominantly Cavendish growers, now we’ve transitioned out of that and into Lady Fingers,” Carly said.

Being a smaller business, the couple felt the need to specialise while taking advantage of the ideal growing conditions on the Atherton Tablelands. “We’re situated in the ‘golden triangle’ of The Tablelands, so it’s all really fertile, red, volcanic basalt soils. We’ve got fantastic growing ground. And although the Lady Finger market is smaller it’s better, and we find the variety does really well here. We’ve planted 45 acres of it and have a high-quality product.”

As Lady Fingers are more expensive than Cavendish bananas, Carly said it’s important that consumers know the benefits of the product and how to choose the tastiest bunch, with education a focus she wants for the industry. “I think people are taking the good old banana for granted these days because there’s so much other produce available throughout the year. For example, you can get blueberries all year around now. All those other fruits that were seasonal are becoming available all year, like the banana.”

Carly said Lady Finger bananas are best eaten when the skin has started sugar spotting, so the fruit is sweet and creamy. “The variety may only account for around four per cent of the industry but, when eaten right, a Lady Finger banana is the best. They have to be eaten fairly ripe. If you eat them when they have a bit of green on them or look beautiful and yellow, they’re fairly starchy.”

The versatility message is another key point Carly wants to get out there. “You can cut Lady Fingers and they don’t go brown. You can put them in a fruit salad and they’ll stay nice and creamy and white.”

But more than marketing, Carly sees biosecurity as a primary focus for the banana industry. “It’s one of our biggest challenges, and at this stage I think everyone is doing what they should be and what they can afford to do.”

Carly is also keen to consider new approaches to growing the best product possible. Two years ago, she and Dino began employing innovative fertilsation methods and have been happy with the results.

“Our bananas are fed every day. More traditional methods say you fertilise once or twice a month, but as humans we eat every day and need food to survive, and so do the bananas,” Carly said.

“We do a teaspoon feeding program where the bananas are fertigated every day. They receive small amounts when they’re getting watered and we’ve found it works really well. We have good tree health and better quality fruit. We’ve had an increase in production. Minimising plant stress is the key to having healthy trees.”

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