Tropical cyclone knocks banana harvest for six

Bananas are tipped to reach record prices in Australian stores in the coming weeks after 80% of the national crop was destroyed by Cyclone Larry that hit the north of the country in late March.

Sugar cane growers were also hard hit, with around 25% of their crop affected, while dairy farmers suffered damage to their pasture, fences and waterways.

The Category 5 tropical cyclone produced 180-mile an hour winds, torrential rains and flooding that devastated about 450 banana plantations in the key North Queensland growing centres of Innisfail and Tully.

A day after the cyclone, major retailers increased prices by 41p/kg (Au$1/kg) to £2.07/kg ($4.88/kg).

Analysts say the shortage of fruit could force prices up to £3.70/kg (Au$9/kg).

Some major regional retailers are without bananas because of supply shortages and transporters are laying off staff who would normally drive produce to city markets.

Most banana growers say it will take them a year to recover, if they have the financial means to do so, as most did not have crop insurance.

Farmworkers have few prospects of finding local work for at least a year.

On the sugar side, Canegrowers Australia anticipates crop losses will be close to £83m (Au$200m), not taking into account damage to farmhouses, sheds, machinery and on-farm infrastructure.

The area hardest hit is one of Australia’s largest sugar growing regions, with the cyclone affecting some 10m tonnes of cane, or a quarter of Australia’s annual sugar production. Some growers lost their entire crop.

The Queensland Government has pledged £7.64m (Au$18.5m) in relief funding to help farmers affected and urban residents.

Around 1000 locals will be employed for up to six months to rebuild public infrastructure.

More than £165m (Au$400m) in insurance claims are expected, but this does not include most of the sugar or banana crops.

Total damage to the region is estimated at £620m (Au$1.5bn).

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