SPREADING the geographic risk of growing bananas in the Wet Tropics of Far North Queensland has been an investment that has paid dividends for Leon Collins.
Almost five decades after Mr Collins' family first started growing bananas in the Tully Valley region, the second-generation grower said expanding into other areas had paid off for his family.
Mr Collins' father and uncle planted their first bananas in Tully in 1971, and harvested the year after. Since then, there has been no looking back.
They now own two properties in the Tully Valley and expanded their operations to a greenfield site in Lakeland about six years ago.
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"We wanted to expand for cyclone mitigation and disease prevention pressing into a new area, which has proven invaluable with Panama TR54, we had all our biosecurity in place before Panama was detected in 2015 and did everything properly," Mr Collins said.
Mr Collins, who grows Cavendish bananas for nation-wide distribution, said the Lakeland plantation was going well.
"They've had a real wet season up there and it's looking a million dollars.
"It was a greenfield site and 12 months later we harvested the first crop. The Lakeland site should give us some security over cyclones so consumers can still buy with confidence Australia's favourite fruit."
Mr Collins said keeping out overseas imports had been the biggest challenge facing the industry until Panama was detected.
"Panama is going to be the real stickler, we did eliminate black sigatoka, and fruit fly, everything else is eradicable, but TR4 is not.
"We are doing everything in our power to halt and slow down the spread of disease, which is an extremely difficult task as we've still got to manage our people in the paddock, be able to harvest, and feral pigs have been a big problem in spreading the disease from area to area as well."
Mr Collins said work was being done in Australia and around the world to breed a Panama resistant variety.
He said the banana industry was vital to the functioning of North Queensland, with 420 loaded vans of the fruit leaving the region every week of the year.
Queensland, particularly Tully and Innisfail, produce more than 90 per cent of the nation's iconic yellow fruit, supplying Australians with five million bananas every day.
This year, Australia will produce 359,000 tonnes of bananas, contributing about $1.3 billion to the economy.
Australians are being urged to support the industry today, which is the first National Banana Day.
- This story first appeared on the North Qld Register.