Cyclone Niran hits growers, ABGC

Banana growers have been dealt a devastating blow which could cost $200 million after tropical cyclone Niran caught north Queenslanders off guard, wiping out entire crops of the fruit.

While consumers are unlikely to face any shortages or price hikes, Australia’s peak body for banana growers say the cyclonic winds have destroyed up to 100 per cent of some farm’s crops.

Cyclone Niran formed as a category one system on Tuesday morning, and although it has not yet crossed the Queensland coast, the winds wreaked havoc across the state’s north in previous days.

Federal MP Bob Katter said bananas, which are the nation’s “biggest commodity sold in supermarkets” and a $600 million a year industry, had been “very badly hit indeed.”

The Australian Banana Growers Council on Tuesday began its work alongside farmers to assess the damage.

Chair Stephen Lowe said it’s too early to give an overall estimate of damage but crop losses of up to 100 per cent are anticipated in some cases.

“We will have a better idea of how widespread the impact is in coming days,” Mr Lowe said.

“However, from what I can understand, most of the Cassowary Coast region, except for Tully, has been heavily affected, with crop losses between 20 per cent to 100 per cent from Fishery Falls to Cowley, Mission Beach, parts of El Arish and inland across to Walkamin and the Atherton Tablelands.

“Growers around Innisfail, particularly at Boogan and Wangan, have reported up to 100 per cent crop losses.”

So far, no damage has been reported in Tully Valley.

Gusts of up to 90km/h were recorded at some farms on Monday while the system was still a tropical low, with “little warning” from the Bureau of Meteorology as to the extent of winds.

Dianne Sciacca at Pacific Coast Eco Bananas said she was disappointed there was not more warning.

She said the farm had lost at least 80 per cent of their crops.

Mr Katter said he had been tracking the cyclone, and admits he was “caught off guard”.

“It was nowhere near the coast… (The Bureau) should have told people,” he said.

“But this cyclone hasn’t gone away… (Cyclone) Larry came back in (to the coast). We’re not relaxing.”

Mr Katter said the Queensland banana industry was worth $600 million in annual production, and at least a quarter of the state’s crops had been hit by the cyclone.

“The losses could be between $100 and $200 million from the information we’ve received,” he told NCA NewsWire.

“That’s just bananas. There’s paw paw and (sugar) cane production impacted as well.

“I’ve got friends that have lost their entire crops… Losses are between 60 and 100 per cent fairly consistently.”

Mr Katter said growers “shouldn’t have to go through this” and that the government would wind up losing because of a failure to implement crop insurance.

“You lose millions of dollars by the time the trees come back into production,” he said.

The crop wipe out is another blow to growers who have suffered “enormously” with consecutive years of low prices, and faced critical worker shortages as a result of COVID-19.

Mr Lowe said there were many growers already “extremely distressed” before this week’s weather event.

“I would imagine this has only compounded their hardship,” he said.

But, Mr Lowe said the varying levels of damage, combined with the spread of farms across the far north, means consumers shouldn’t expect price or supply issues in the short term.

“Given there are no reports of damage from the Tully Valley or Lakeland and the southern Tablelands seemed to have suffered only a small amount of damage, we don’t expect there to be a spike in retail prices,” Mr Lowe said.

“While this event is devastating for those affected, it will not have the same price impact seen after Cyclone Yasi, when a large majority of the industry was hit.”

Banana growers were devastated after Cyclone Larry in 2006 and Yasi in 2011 hit north Queensland, which resulted in fruit prices topping out at $15/kg.

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