Going bananas with Bartle Frere Bananas

The owner of Bartle Frere Bananas, Gavin Devaney, has a lot to share about how much work goes into every bunch of bananas.

In sugarcane and banana country, the Queensland farmer is striving to connect with customers through cutting edge technology that tracks every bunch of bananas from the farm to the fruit bowl.

Carbon neutral bananas and protecting the Great Barrier Reef from run-off are also in his sights. It’s a task that has now received a huge boost with a $445 000 grant through the Coles Nurture Fund.

The family-run business is no stranger to pushing the boundaries of innovation as they strive for cleaner and more sustainable processes.

Gavin monitoring data with his team

Challenges facing banana industry

Life in North Queensland means having to contend with extreme weather like the wet season and cyclones. Given those challenges, Gavin is constantly trying to improve his knowledge in best management practices to avoid topsoil run-off and crop damage.

“If you change a practice, how are you going to measure a result without data? That lead to the whole tracking and geo-locating bananas.”

The system has allowed Gavin to monitor his crop but also given consumers confidence in the product. For those unfamiliar with the system, it’s the same concept as the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) which achieves the same result for cattle, sheep and goats to bolster biosecurity, food safety and a competitive advantage in a global market.

“Believe it or not, the NLIS was actually my honours project at university,” says Gavin.

“With a beast, you can say who the mother and father were. You can get all that information right through to the butcher shop. Well, I’m trying to get information right through to the supermarket.”

Tracking gives consumers confidence

It wasn’t until the strawberry industry was crippled by the needle food tampering scare in 2018 that he thought the same principle could work for crops.

“That devastated entire properties. I swore I’d never be part of that. So, giving consumers confidence around their product has always been a big thing for me.”

The tracking goes as far as what fertiliser is used and how much, as well as the use of pesticides.

“We geolocate that bunch, then the bunch is bagged to protect it from birds. At that point, the bagging machine operator just goes to the spot where than bunch is. There’s a labour saving as well as soil compaction and movement.”

Coles Nurture Fund grant recipient

Gavin can now continue that work as a new recipient of the Coles Nurture Fund grant.

“It’s given me a chance to run a lot more testing around what we’re doing and whether the practices are also able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

He says carbon-neutral bananas are a possibility.

“The nurture fund carries over three years. So, we’ve got that time to continue these projects. That’s our direction.”

Some of the trials he has planned involve fertiliser and electric vehicles but the mark of success will ultimately be whether it’s commercially viable.

“If it’s not commercially viable, no one’s going to be able to do that practice off their own back. You’d always be looking for a government grant. The investigation around that is a big thing.”

Forward thinking

Gavin hopes his forward thinking and constant efforts to improve his environmental footprint are valued by the community as we all reflect on our impact on the land.

“I hope what we’re doing proves farmers aren’t as bad as they seem. You’re able to produce things without destroying the earth. That we do go above and beyond to actually protect what we’ve got. To protect it and sustain it for generations to come.”

And he certainly has a vested interest in that, raising what he hopes will be the fourth generation of farmers in his family.

Gavin with his family in the paddock

Hear more stories like this by subscribing to the Telling Our Story podcast on iTunes (or wherever you listen to podcasts) and follow podcast host Angie Asimus on Instagram for more updates.

Angie Asimus

Add comment

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.

Register for updates

Subscribe to access free weekly recipes, news and lifestyle content – fresh from Australia’s farmers.