Boost for banana growers

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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Carnarvon banana growers who were devastated by cyclone Olwyn in mid-March are now receiving compensation payouts from an industry fund they established themselves.

Compensation of $2.6 million is in the process of being paid out to the 48 members of the Carnarvon Banana Producers' Committee Compensation and Protection Scheme, administered by the Agricultural Produce Commission.

Although it won't go the full way to compensating the industry worth $9 million annually, the $2.6 million will provide a lifeline for the growers looking to get back on their feet.

The APC scheme started in 1999 when the Carnarvon Banana Industry Trust Fund was repealed and funds were rolled into the APC compensation and protection scheme.

Since then, the now 48 growers in Carnarvon have been making voluntary fee for service contributions, currently of about 0.015 cents per kilo - equivalent to about 20 cents a carton.

The interest-earning fund had accumulated about $5 million before the cyclone wiped out Carnarvon's banana plantations in March.

Fund chairman Bruce Munro said growers had investigated traditional insurance policies ahead of the APC scheme being put into place, but crippling premiums meant these were unviable.

"The fund therefore provided a very good option for protection, and is the envy of many other producer groups," he said.

He said an $860,000 claim for heat damage several years ago was funded by interest earned on the fund.

APC chairman William Ryan said with more than $2 million remaining in the fund, there was still ample money if another event caused damage in the near future.

The impact of the cyclone means it could take up to 18 months before the growers can harvest their replanted plantation.

They are also hoping to harvest some smaller fruit in about 10 months time after cutting back some damaged plants.

Meanwhile, a fundraising event held in Perth raised more than $25,000, which will be given to the Gascoyne Food Council to help with the promotion of Carnarvon produce in the future.

The fundraising event, called Chefs for the Gascoyne, brought together 20 chefs and more than 40 suppliers, resulting in a gourmet extravaganza attended by more than 200 West Australians on April 19.

More than 90 per cent of the produce used was donated (originating from Esperance to Kununurra).

WA Food Ambassador Don Hancey helped to organise the event.

Farmer Jacks supermarkets managing director Fred Fairthorne also used the opportunity to present Gascoyne Food Council chairman Paul Shain and vice-chairman Michael Nixon with a $100,000 donation.

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