Ecoganic: look for the red tip
You may have seen red wax-tipped bananas in stores, but do you know what the red tip means? Most Aussies don’t know that bananas with a red wax tip have been produced by farmers who use Ecoganic farming methods. The Ecoganic method works with the farm’s ecosystem to sustainably grow sweet, creamy bananas in harmony with nature.
Red-tipped or “Eco bananas” are grown without the use of pesticides or other chemicals. Eco bananas are also the only bananas endorsed by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. Why? Because the farming method, which is used by six farming families in banana-growing regions in Queensland, strives to have zero impact on nearby waterways and the Great Barrier Reef. There’s also now an avocado grower in Bundaberg using the Ecoganic method.
A need to change
Frank and Dianne Sciacca of Pacific Coast Produce established the Ecoganic method in 1998. Frank had become concerned about the amount of fertilisers and chemicals he was using on his banana plantation. Despite pressure from the industry to use chemicals to destroy pests, he was continuing to experience worsening pest problems. Something didn’t feel right. So he decided to come up with a way to “farm with nature”.
“I’ve been diving on the Great Barrier Reef since I was young,” Frank says. “I saw the degradation of the coral reefs and devastating changes to the ecosystem first-hand. It became my passion to create a farming system that would help solve the imbalances created by conventional farming methods.”
At first, he explored organic farming, but while Frank believes organics to be “admirable in theory”, it didn’t promise the environmental outcomes he aspired to. He wanted to build up the soil, protect waterways and maximise the input of insects and animals. The goal was to grow bananas in a way that mimicked how they grow in nature.
“Organic farming substitutes synthetic products with organic products,” Frank explains. “It doesn’t line up the roleplay between plants, insects and other organisms to achieve plants growing in harmony in a balanced ecosystem.”
Nature’s little helpers
Frank spent thousands of hours researching banana farming practices, soil science and other technical data. He realised he needed to come up with a whole new way of farming that was both financially viable and environmentally sustainable.
The Ecoganic method Frank ultimately developed focuses on repairing the natural ecosystem through a regenerative approach. Ecoganic farming builds and strengthens the ecosystem, working in harmony with nature. Rather than relying on chemicals, the method uses all of nature’s creatures on the farm to grow bananas slowly and sustainably. By working with nature rather than against it, animals, reptiles, birds and even insects and weeds can become “nature’s workers” that can help a farm to flourish.
Paper wasps, for instance, might give you a nasty sting, but they act as natural pesticides, feeding on pests that would otherwise destroy crops. Frank let flowering weeds grow on his property, which attracts these wasps. Blue shield beetles are another pest-eating insect that eats red spider mites that attack bananas. Once Frank changed his farming practices, these helpful pest-eating bugs returned to his farm in droves. Frogs also returned in large numbers – always an excellent sign of a healthy ecosystem.
“Nature is at the heart of what we do,” Frank says. “It keeps everything in balance. Through the Ecoganic method, I was able to start rebuilding and fortifying the soil to provide a thriving habitat for a range of native insects, birds and animals. More wildlife means greater diversity in soil organisms to create healthy balanced soils. This improves fruit dry matter [the solid content of the fruit], flavour and taste.”
Tasting the difference
Frank also noticed that cutting out chemicals had a positive effect on the taste of his fruit.
“From our previous farming experience, we knew that high stress production systems alter the natural cycle of plant growth,” Frank says. “This influences the taste. Ecoganic bananas are grown more slowly. This means the banana tastes like a banana should – sweet and creamy. The fruit is also more mature at harvest, so it has a fuller flavour.”
Over time, yields increased and Frank’s farm became a haven for living creatures of all descriptions. Wallabies return each night during the summer months to drink from the farm’s pond. White and black ibis now nest in the trees and other habitats that Frank has planted. Hundreds of native birds also use the farm’s trees to sleep in at night.
Spreading the word
Frank decided to develop a formal protocol for his Ecoganic method. Growers can now become Ecoganic certified through a rigorous process that measures soil health and key species of flora and fauna. Farmers are also provided with guidance and support to develop and implement an environmental management system custom-tailored to their farm.
“Mother Nature is our greatest helper and most valuable resource,” Frank says. “She provides all the creatures, great and small, that are needed to grow a safe, healthy and sustainable crop. By working with her, we’ve proven that it is possible to grow a healthy crop, without the use of insecticides, nematicides or miticides.”
Ultimately, Eco bananas are grown like bananas used to be grown, before modern farming systems created a reliance on chemicals. But the question must be asked: why the red tip?
“Using bright red food-grade wax is our way of letting consumers know we’re different from ordinary bananas; our fruit is grown in chemical-free soil,” Frank says. “Instead of stickers, we opted for a colourful wax, which is distinctive, unique and sustainable.”