[18 February /The Country]

Tropical fruit are becoming more popular to grow in New Zealand. New Zealanders eat 18kg per capita or around $140 million worth of bananas a year. Hugh Rose, head of Tropical Fruit Growers of NZ has a 40ha property on Northland’s east coast and grows a variety of tropical fruits including bananas, pineapples, dragon fruit, pawpaw and sugar cane. Rose states that bananas are easy to grow and benefit from New Zealand’s low disease and pest levels compared to the tropics and that they can be grown year round, as long as temperatures exceed 14 degrees. Although bananas are more often associated with warm tropical climates found on the equator, they are being grown across the country especially in Northland’s semi-tropical climate. There are growers across the country typically between Northland and Gisborne producing good crops and even some in Invercargill under tunnel shelter. There are 17 varieties of banana growing, and increased consumer interest, with the New Zealand sourced bananas selling at about $8/kg through Whangārei farmers’ market. Rose reports that with the amount of growers now on board, Northland should be able to be self-sufficient with bananas in a couple of years. Rose also calculates that with 1500 plants per hectare could result in 15,000kg of bananas a year. Banana plants are a water-efficient, funnel-shaped plant that does not require much irrigation, grows well on most soil types and is tolerant to many pests and diseases. Bananas also sit well alongside dairying as dairy effluent is high in nitrogen and phosphate which are nutrients that bananas thrive off. All portions of the plant are edible to stock.