Pacific Coast Eco Bananas Presentation to the 2008 EMS / CGU Awards Dinner

By: Dianne Sciacca

On behalf of Frank, myself and our group of dedicated Pacific Coast Eco Banana farmers, Pacific Coast Produce is proud to have our environmental achievements of the past 8 years acknowledged.

Pacific Coast Eco Bananas 2008 EMS Awards Presentation Dinner On behalf of Frank, myself and our group of dedicated Pacific Coast Eco Banana farmers, Pacific Coast Produce is proud to have our environmental achievements of the past 8 years acknowledged.

Eco bananas consists of a group of growers who farm under an eco protocol - who as well – have a certified ISO 14001 E M S.   Our 3rd party certification has been in place since December 2002.    Eco bananas can be clearly identified in the market place by a coloured tip.

Policies, document control, management reviews and impact assessments are managed as a group, projects are controlled for the ecoganic protocol and then each farm has their individual projects unique to their farm environment.

Our organization is very supportive of the 14001 EMS conceptual framework and standard because although it is not a performance standard it provides an excellent management tool that drives continual improvement and change.  It can be 3rd party certified and is internationally recognised.

Most farmers will say that moving towards more environmentally sustainable farming practices is the direction they would prefer to take,  but when  struggling to achieve prices to just cover the cost of production,  increased use of fertiliser for greater yields and chemical use to protect crops from pest damage is their only option of surviving.

There is a dilemma in the fruit and veg retailer sector.  Consumers say they want or prefer to buy environmentally sound or organics foods.  Yet the farmer is being told by the agent and retailer that there is very little demand for such products because the cost is too high.

Our research shows that consumers belief is one of wanting to purchase sustainable food and support the environment, but their attitude is one that because there is less product being used to produce eco or organic food then it should cost less and someone is making a lot of money and in the words of a “few people in our most recent focus group their being scammed”

Unfortunately the retail sector does nothing to change this perception, when they continue to promote cheap fruit and veg on specials at below cost of production.  Recently the sale prices not return prices of commercially grown bananas were $6-12 and the median cost of production is $18.

Environmental sustainability might end up a myth if the retail sector is allowed to continue making profits, from food that no makes little or no profit let alone be able accommodate the cost of protecting the land upon which it was grown.

The challenge for the rural sectors is not only in embracing the adoption better environmental practices but also    to be able to inform and educate the Australian consumer so their beliefs and attitudes can be aligned with their intention to buy. It is our belief the Government may have the process back to front; we need to educate the consumer about environmental value before we can expect them to pay for it.  Maybe we are trying to drive the agenda from the wrong end of the supply chain.

Ecoganics is about delivering ecological outcomes that produce a better tasting and performing banana. Some of our achievements have been:

  • A fertiliser regime that is 75% less than the industry average
  • The removal of chemical bell injection for scab moth
  • The removal of insecticides and nematic ides used on the soil
  • The reduction of Herbicide and Fungicide by 45-49%  (on some farms no fungicide has been used)
  • 6 years ago we were the first in the industry to develop a recycling programme for disposal of plastic bunch covers.
  • The development of ponds and settlement traps to filter shed discharge water.
  • Significant market research to understand who our customers are and how we can reach them. We recently spent $8000 on the random selection of focus groups to understand consumer behaviour when it comes to beliefs and attitudes of the environmental products and their production.
  • Marketing our environmental message to achieve sustainable returns.  2% of all sales are invested back to trying to get the message out there.  Needless to say this is a drop in the ocean of what is required to market on a national scale.

Our most significant project has been the development of our IEM programme of insect monitoring, recording and identification to measure ecological outcomes on the farm.  Over the past 3 years $20,000 has been spent on a purpose built data base to record inputs and monitor the impacts of all significant activity on the farm eco system.  The database will always be a work in progress  -  growing as we develop and understand more of our ecosystem

In closing I  say thankyou to Genevieve for her support over the years, her dedication and direction in the adoption of  Environmental Management with integrity and also  to Claire and the committee on the establishment of  EMSA, and from what I have seen today a very relative and informative forum.