Mission Beach banana grower takes out horticulture award

A banana farmer at Mission Beach in the Wet Tropics region of Far North Queensland has been awarded the top prize in the horticulture category of the inaugural Reef Rescue Awards.

Winner Ian Barnes had already made significant farming improvements on the family farm using his own funds but with the help of a well-timed Reef Rescue grant in 2011 (Cyclone Yasi wiped out their entire crop and destroyed their shed in February of that year), Ian was able to make further changes which improved both his soil and nutrient management, thereby reducing the risk of run-off from the property.

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Given the farm’s location at Mission Beach, its proximity to the reef and surrounding township, these improvements are both important to the Barnes family and the community.

“Being this close to the ocean, I want to know where and at what depth my water and fertilizer is at,” said Ian.

Prior to receiving the grant money in 2011, Ian had already made the change from overhead to under-tree micro sprinklers on all but two hectares of the 50 hectare farm.

Overhead irrigation causes a number of issues in banana crops including chemicals being washed off leaves and the promotion of weed growth.

The Reef Rescue grant enabled Ian to change the last two hectares from overhead to under-tree micro sprinklers so that this area now matches the rest of the farm.

He also installed a fertigation tank to enable small amounts of nutrient to be applied regularly to the crop and scheduling equipment to optimise water requirements so that water and fertiliser are not lost to deep drainage.

“The new system means I know how much water is being used on every block and it allows for fertigation to happen regularly and in small doses, to avoid runoff,” said Ian.

The accuracy and control of this new system means that Ian has reduced his nutrient application by 30 per cent per year.

Ian has also reduced his herbicide application through Reef Rescue through the purchase of a side throw slasher.

The slasher slashes between rows and throws grass mulch up onto the beds, meaning he is no longer spraying the inter row.

Ian estimates that these practice changes, which have resulted in the inter row grassing up, has reduced sediment loss by as much as 75 percent.

Ian’s improved soil management and reduction in nutrient and chemical applications have not only improved the quality of water leaving his farm but they have also resulted in improved production.

He believes his wastage has reduced from sometimes, as high as 30 percent to between 5 and 10 percent and has noticed an increase in bunch size and more marketable 1st grade fruit.

While the Barnes family have invested a lot of their own funds over the years, the grant helped speed up their latest project which Ian had envisaged taking many years to complete.

“I wanted to go this way one day,” said Ian.  “Reef Rescue makes it affordable which means it happens a lot quicker.”

“But I’m keen to pursue more improvement in the areas of nutrient monitoring, irrigation monitoring and break crops such as canola and other general soil health issues.”

Terrain NRM provided the Australian Government’s Reef Rescue Water Quality Incentive Grant to Ian.  Terrain is one of 54 regional bodies across Australia working to look after our natural resources.