Aiding the banana industry through the Cyclone Larry recovery

Posted by on May 21, 2010 in Blog, Case Study | 0 comments

Just because the Bananas are always in Pyjamas, doesn’t equate to an industry which leaves the economics of scarcity to chance.
It’s probably fair to say most of us understand the economic principle of supply and demand.  It’s an issue faced by most primary producers, where supply fluctuates between feast and famine, mirrored in returns to growers.  The Australian Banana Growers Council decided to take the bull by the horns and try and address this problem at a whole of industry scale.  The premise was simple.  What if every grower had a way of seeing the predicted industry harvest, as a whole, at some point in the future.  This would allow individual growers to make the choice of when their banana’s would be available for harvesting, with an aim of smoothing the peaks and toughs of banana availability on the domestic market.

The system consists of two components, namely a desktop crop recording package, producing single plantation forecasts, created by the state government, and a web based reporting and forecasting application.  Why not just have it all sit on the Internet?  When the first version of the system was built, it was 2002.  Internet connectivity in Australian cities, let alone remote regions, was in its infancy.  Those lucky enough to connect at 33k, had no desire to wait for online forms to load, one after the other. Most producers simply didn’t have the capability to log onto the Internet at frequent intervals required to enter their crop data.  Having an off-line data recording process, while perhaps not cutting edge, was far better suited to the growers.  They could then batch upload their data to the on-line database with a single click. Once the data is uploaded, growers could check harvesting forecast charts.  As well as their own data, they are also presented with aggregated data from other growers in their region, together with all growers in the system. 

So how has the system performed?  The fact that it’s in its eighth year of operation speaks for itself.  In the land of internet time, it represents a very mature tool, which has become an integral part of the banana grower’s landscape in Australia. 
The system has undergone numerous enhancements over the years, more recently providing the ability for growers to subscribe to custom groups, allowing agents to monitor specific groups of growers.  Despite enhancements upon enhancements, the code base is clean, and there have been no re-writes.  This speaks volumes to the original system architecture.

I am sure most banana loving Aussies will remember the lack of, or astronomical prices, of our favorite bent fruit in shops following the devastating effects of Cyclone Larry in 2006.  The copious amounts of the fruit consumed by my family even led me to request payment in bananas from the then CEO of the Australian Banana Growers Council.  The Primary Industries and Fisheries Minister of the time, Tim Mulherin, had this to say, “The Banana Crop Forecasting System (BCFS) … has been an innovation that has worked well in assisting the recovery effort”, and went on, “It is a tribute to all in the industry that they have been able to pick themselves up, many of them just hours after battling for their lives through one of the worst cyclones ever to hit the east coast, and start looking to the future”.  It was a real privilege to have been able to assist is my own way.

For those of you with small kids in the room… 

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