Harvesting, packing and storing bananas in the ORIA

Page last updated: Monday, 27 July 2020 - 2:12pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

For bananas on the Ord River Irrigation Area, length of time to emergence and harvesting depend on air temperature, planting time and sucker management.

Ratoon crops are much slower to reach maturity than new crops.

Production timeline

Expected time to reach bunch emergence and harvest
Stage

     Plant crops

          Ratoon crops                     

Planting to bunch emergence 6-9 months

Ratoon 1: 14-16 months

Ratoon 2: 24 months

Bunch emergence to harvest 3-4 months  
Planting to harvest 10-13 months

Ratoon 1: 17-19 months

Ratoon 2: 27 month

The time to ratoon harvest and bunch emergence is highly variable due to staggered selection of suckers.

Planting between August and October gives the shortest times to harvest. While May planting gives the longest time to harvest.

Typically, growers achieve 40t/ha of bananas from the traditional-based systems and about 60t/ha with annual tissue culture or in a well-managed plantation. This can be highly variable and depends on numerous factors especially climate, (temperatures and sunshine) and storm damage.

Most growers would expect to pack up to 1.5 cartons per bunch of bananas, after losses and quality control. The bunch is harvested when the angles on the fruit have almost disappeared and the fruit is evenly filled.

During very hot weather the fruit may need to be cut thinner with more prominent angles. During changeable weather ‘mixed ripe’ fruit may occur where some fingers in the bunch ripen prematurely. Earlier harvest of thinner fruit will avoid most of this problem.

The parent or plant crop harvest can usually be spread over two months in a plantation due to non-uniform bunch maturity. Each successive ratoon crop’s harvesting time will become longer.

Bananas should be carefully handled at all stages of the harvesting and packing process. Rough handling can result in damage that does not become evident until the carton is opened at the markets after the ripening process. In very hot weather, bananas should be harvested during the coolest part of the day.

Maturity

For information on assessing maturity see the Tropical Banana Information kit.

Harvesting

Bananas are always harvested by hand using a two-person team. One person cuts and the other carries the bunch away. When cutting the bunch, a shallow cross cut is made with a cane knife in the stem facing the bunch. A saw is commonly used to cut the bunch from the stem. The weight of the bunch causes the stem to bend. At this point the bunch is then lowered onto the shoulder padding of the second person and the bunch stem is cut.

To allow the parent stem to remain intact for assisting growth of suckers, the carrier can use a ladder and the person cutting can use a long handled cutting knife to cut the bunch stem.

Each bunch of bananas is individually placed upright onto a trailer that is padded. Padding is also placed on each side to prevent any rubbing between bunches. At the packing shed the bananas are hung, have their bunch covers removed, dehanded, washed, and then packed.

Packing

A small thin straight-bladed knife is used to cut banana hands from the bunch stalk. Once removed, any undersized and damaged fingers are removed. The hand then can be placed on a packing wheel or into a water trough/conveyor system where it is sorted and graded for size and quality.

Bananas are packed as whole hands, part hands or clusters in cardboard cartons with plastic liners. Plastic slip-sheets are used between full hands and absorbent paper is placed in the bottom of the carton. Cartons are staked onto pallets for ease of pickup and delivery for transport.

To ensure a net weight of 13kg when a carton of bananas reaches the markets, they are usually packed to a weight of 13.5 to 13.7kg in order to allow for any weight loss.

The grower’s name and address must appear on the carton.

For more information on packing process see Tropical Banana Information kit.

Grading

The Cavendish variety has three fruit grades, dependent on finger size. The length is measured from the tip of the fruit to the end of the stalk on the outside curve. Circumference is measured at right angles to the curve of the fruit, at the point where the diameter is the greatest.

The grades are:

  • Extra large: at least 200mm long and 115mm in circumference
  • Large: 177 to 200mm long and at least 108mm in circumference
  • Medium: 140 to 177mm long and at least 101mm in circumference.

Gassing and cold chain management

Once packed, bananas should be cool stored at 13°C. They are normally ripened at metropolitan markets, though some can be ripened on the farm for local consumption.

All ORIA bananas are marketed through Perth. WA growers cannot currently supply the full WA banana demands, supplying about 40 to 50% of demand.

Contact information

Tara Slaven
+61 (0)8 9166 4032

Author

Tara Slaven