Annabel Bowles

Tropic Now journalist

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Banana farmers ‘entirely disillusioned’ with $25,000 disaster grant

Growers impacted by Tropical Cyclone Niran are now eligible for a $25,000 government grant – but farmers say it’s not enough and not targeted towards the biggest issue facing the industry.

The grant is restricted to cover building and fencing repairs, as well clean-up activities for primary producers in Cairns, Cassowary Coast, Hinchinbrook, Mareeba and the Tablelands regions.

Boogan banana grower Dianne Sciacca – who had to lay off 14 to 15 staff after the cyclone struck in early March – said this grant will only cover about a tenth of estimated losses and do nothing to help cover staff wages.

Provided by the jointly funded Commonwealth-State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA), the grants are available to banana, sugarcane, passionfruit, avocados, production nurseries and other perennial tree farms.

But Ms Sciacca told Tropic a $25,000 cheque for clean-up and repairs won’t help her Boogan farm, Pacific Coast Eco Bananas, which won’t see an income in the next six months.

“(In Tropical Cyclone Niran) we lost 100% of the trees that had bunches on them, all of the crop that was there,” she said.

“We do have some trees still standing so the next time we’ll have an income will be around August or September.

“We’ve had to put off 14 to 15 staff and could only keep three.”

Ms Sciacca said the grant would only cover about a tenth of estimated losses for her small 120-acre farm.

“I’ve estimated that we’d need a minimum of $250,000 to get through, half of that just for wages," she said. 

“We’ll need $100,000 for wages for the next four months.

“The average banana farm is about twice the size of us, so they’ll need even more.

“I’m entirely disillusioned at the moment."

Ms Sciacca also said most banana farmers don’t have fencing and have already cleaned up crop damages, rendering the support package useless to many producers.

“The government really don’t understand the dynamics of what the problem is … it does not understand the industry," she said. 

“A lot of farms have already cleaned up because we needed to do that straight away to get the next crop going.

“We need something to help keep people employed.”

Minister for Emergency Management David Littleproud has called the support package “extraordinary” and said it would help drive the recovery of North Queensland producers.

“Primary producers like the ones I met are vital to the Australian economy and it’s imperative that we support them as they recover from not only this destructive weather event, but also COVID-19,” he said.

“Helping our farmers get back on their feet so they can continue to generate economic opportunities for rural and regional communities is a focus for all governments in Australia.”