New Zealand imports about 72,000 tonnes of bananas annually, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Each New Zealander eats around 18kg of bananas a year - an estimated cost of about $88 per household, or more than $142 million a year.

New Zealand imports more bananas per capita than any other developed country, with most of the fruit grown with the use of toxic pesticides which lower the risk of unwanted organisms entering New Zealand but are perceived as a danger to human health.

Parua Bay farmer Hugh Rose believes bananas - and other tropical crops - grown organically in Northland could be developed into an alternative source of supply and produce lucrative rewards for regional landowners.

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He and around 20 others experimenting with growing tropical fruit commercially have formed a group they are calling Tropical Fruit Growers of New Zealand (TFGNZ) and are trying to contact potential members or gardeners with bananas or other tropical crops from which the group can source stock to expand their activities.

"Basically, we need to get tropical fruit growers together for an exchange of ideas and stock," Mr Rose said.

He and his wife Pauline moved from the Kaipara district to their 40ha property in Rukuwai Rd at Parua Bay three years ago. Pauline is chief operations officer for Northland broadband and phone provider Uber Group and uses their rural lifestyle to expand her interest in growing water lilies and develop water gardens.

Hugh has helped a builder erect them a home, grown kumara, set up a Red Devon stud and, most recently, started planting banana suckers with the intention of establishing a commercial plantation.

With plants he put in the ground last November growing well with suckers appearing around their bases, he's already working out their potential for profit.

If he could get a hectare covered in bananas 3m apart his 3333 plants could within two years each produce at least 10kg of fruit which, selling at $2 a kilogram, would return $66,660 a hectare.

Pineapples growing on Owen Schifli's property in front of coffee bushes with sugar cane, left, and bananas, right, providing shelter. Photo / Mike Barrington
Pineapples growing on Owen Schifli's property in front of coffee bushes with sugar cane, left, and bananas, right, providing shelter. Photo / Mike Barrington

Plus each plant would produce several suckers for plantation expansion.

Pineapples could also provide a rich field of exploration.

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Hugh has calculated that with 22,000 pineapples growing per hectare, within five years each plant would produce three fruit potentially saleable for $2 each - a return of $132,000 a hectare.

And again, each plant would produce several suckers which could be used for plantation expansion.

Mr Rose draws much of his inspiration for tropical fruit production from Owen Schifli, who moved from South Africa in 2008 and over the past six years has been exploring the possibility of commercial production of bananas, pineapples, coffee, dragon fruit, pawpaw, sugar cane and prickly pear on a smallholding in Lamb Rd, Parua Bay.

An experienced horticulturist, his efforts are bearing fruit in all departments, with word-of-mouth sales of delicious bananas and pot plant pineapple and banana suckers producing a trickle of cash and providing young plants for future expansion.

Prickly pear is a stranger to New Zealand farms which Mr Schifli said was readily eaten by cattle and sheep in South Africa.

Hugh Rose with his bananas planted in November producing suckers of their own. Behind him are small plants put in the ground a fortnight ago and a few larger older plants already fruiting. Photo / Mike Barrington
Hugh Rose with his bananas planted in November producing suckers of their own. Behind him are small plants put in the ground a fortnight ago and a few larger older plants already fruiting. Photo / Mike Barrington

"There is so much water in the leaves it's amazing and it contains lots of fibre," he said.

"Prickly pear has pulled many cattle through drought in South Africa."

Mr Schifli considered pest free prickly pear, which had few prickles when mature, was more useful than palm kernel for stock and could also be consumed by humans when cooked.

TFGNZ seeks contact with people who are growing bananas in their backyards, often with mediocre results.

The gardeners would learn how to make their plants produce 20kg bunches of fruit and TFGNZ would expand their source of stock, possibly with varieties different to the eight or nine types of bananas already known to grow in New Zealand.

Anyone with with an interest in learning more about tropical fruit or needing cultivars for planting can email Hugh Rose on hugh@prose.co.nz or call him on 027 439 1572.