Australian Bananas are grown on commercial plantations in Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. A well planned plantation incorporates good soil types, safe all-weather access, row design to suit typographic conditions, irrigation design, plant spacings, and specialised erosion control and drainage structures.
From the time of planting it usually takes 12 months or so to produce the first bunch of bananas, with subsequent bunches every 8-10 months thereafter. A bunch averages 150 to 200 bananas and weighs approximately 35-50 kilograms. When the bunch is harvested, the parent or mother plants trunk is cut through at about head height. The section of trunk that's left standing nourishes the young 'sucker' plants that grow at its base. These plants go on to produce their own bunches. The top part of the mother plants trunk becomes organic plantation matter.
Harvesting a banana crop is the perfect job if you like working outdoors, enjoy physical work and don’t mind getting very wet, very often, during the wet season from November to March. During the dry season from April to October the weather for pickers is much better.
Picking crews of around 4-6 strong fit people take a tractor towing a special trailer, between the rows of bananas looking for mature bunches. Many growers use colour coding as a way to help the pickers find bunches that are ready to harvest. Coloured covers are tied over each banana bunch when they are just developing to help protect them so when it's time to harvest, pickers know how to look for covers of a particular colour. Bananas bunches are still green when harvested and much care and attention is shown during the harvesting process as bananas bruise easily. It’s velvet glove treatment all the way!
The harvested bunches are soon on their way to the packing shed where many pairs of hands help get bananas to market.
Bananas were originally marketed in large bunches straight from the plant and the leaves were used as padding to reduce the marking and bruising in transit to markets. In the early 1900s, wood cases were introduced, with all of the bananas packed as single fingers, and weighing around 45 kg. The wooden crates have been replaced by the cardboard cartons we still see used today.
Firstly, banana hands are removed from the bunch stem and cut into clusters of between 3 and 9 individual bananas. It is these clusters that you would be used to seeing at your local retailers. These clusters are then placed into cartons which weigh a minimum of 13 kg. Over 28 million of these cartons are packed in Australia each year! The cartons are then packed on pallets and placed in cool rooms to bring the temperature of the bananas down to 14-16°, which is the temperature they will be transported at in their journey to the market.
Once the bananas have passed the quality assurance process, they go into a ripening room. This controlled environment replicates the climatic conditions where the bananas were grown and would have ripened naturally if the plant had not been harvested. Once the bananas are ripened it’s off to the selling floors of the wholesale markets.
Bananas are mostly sold either through wholesale markets in Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth or direct to some of the major retailers around Australia. From here, the cartons of bananas are sent to local retailers, restaurants, fruit barrows, wherever you can buy a banana! Others are off to be processed into products such as banana cakes, smoothies and muffins.