The banana, with its distinctive shape, sweet flesh, and bright yellow skin is one of the most widely eaten fruits in the world. Bananas are nutritious, highly portable, take just seconds to consume, and can be enjoyed raw or cooked. For these reasons, they are planted, grown, and produced around the globe.
Key growing regions
Bananas grow best in tropical climates such as Asia, Latin America, and Africa, thriving in regions where the average temperature is 80° F (27° C), and the yearly rainfall is between 78 and 98 inches. Plants need rich, fertile soil with regular moisture, good drainage, and plenty of organic material. The banana flower appears in the sixth or seventh month and, unlike other fruits that have a growing season, bananas are available all year round.
Even Iceland once experimented with banana production, taking advantage of geothermal power and high prices on imported goods to grow popular fruits and vegetables in greenhouses. Low yields and long growing times caused most growers to abandon the effort. However, Iceland is still home to Europe’s largest banana plantation, producing one-half ton to two tons of fruit annually.
Critical to the global economy
Approximately 135 countries and territories across the tropics and subtropics produce bananas, ranking them fourth in monetary value among the world’s food crops. Between 2010 and 2017, the world’s biggest producers in average tonnes per year were:
- India: 29 million
- China: 11 million
- Philippines: 7.5 million
- Ecuador: 7 million
- Brazil: 7 million
More than 400 million people depend on the banana industry as a source of income, employment, and food security—yet only 15-20% of the world's production is traded globally, with many countries such as Brazil keeping most of their crop for the domestic market. In 2016, the banana trade generated an estimated global export value of USD $11.8 billion, with a retail value between $20 billion and 25 billion.
Role of boron in banana growth and development
With so much at stake, growers need to do all they can to produce abundant, high-quality crops that command top prices on the world market. Success is largely dependent on plant nutrition. Bananas’ rapid growth rate makes them heavy feeders, needing monthly applications of a balanced fertilizer during warm weather. Mature plants can require as much as 1.5 - 2 lbs of fertilizer each month depending on conditions.
Along with essential nutrients such as potassium (K) and nitrogen (N), proper levels of the micro-nutrient boron (B) can ensure larger, better-quality bunches. Boron is needed for skin strength, fruit firmness, and storage life, and is required for root development and plant strength. When too little boron is present in the soil, this increases the likelihood of fungal diseases and reduces plants’ tolerance to environmental stresses.
Low boron levels can occur in a wide range of soil types, but the amount typically diminishes as pH increases. Boron deficiency in bananas occurs most often in regions with humid climates, such as Latin America, the Caribbean, and parts of Asia. Banana plants remove large amounts of boron from the soil each year, so growers in these areas should test their soil regularly to determine the correct pH level and make adjustments as needed.
Signs of boron deficiency in banana plants
Symptoms of boron deficiency start on the youngest leaves of the plant at the outside edges. In the early stages, leaves become chlorotic, a condition in which they produce insufficient chlorophyll, the pigment responsible for the green color of leaves. Chlorotic leaves can be pale, yellow, or yellow-white and later turn dark brown.
As the problem progresses, leaves form lines at right angles to the main veins and may curl up or become deformed. In extreme cases, the banana’s pulp may begin to turn black, and the plant will stop growing. Once a plant shows signs of deficiency it usually cannot fully recover, and even though flowering may be regular, the plant will not produce fruit.
Boron deficiency is sometimes mistaken for calcium deficiency, which also leads to browning on the upper leaves but produces lighter colored patches and starts at the top of the leaf rather than the edge. Often boron deficiency and calcium deficiency go hand in hand because boron is critical for calcium absorption.
Partner with an expert
The good news is these problems can be corrected if they are addressed early enough by applying the right amount of nutrients at the proper point in the growing cycle. A systematic approach that combines balanced soil chemistry and regular application of nutrients and micro-nutrients results in improved yields, consistent quality, better plant health and disease resistance.
Our agronomists understand the challenges of growing bananas in all regions and soil conditions. They can help you find the right combination of nutrients to maximize your crop. Contact us today for a complimentary consultation.