Weather dampens prime picking time
TABLELANDS mango farmers are in a race against the clock to get fruit picked before it ripens on the tree and spoils.
They are sending workers out into waterlogged orchards wearing gumboots and raincoats to ensure the deluge doesn’t affect quality or yields.
Over the past week, Mareeba Airport has received nearly 200mm, while other areas have recorded up to 377mm.
The wet weather has been welcomed by most with Tinaroo Falls Dam dangerously low but it’s bad timing for local mango farmers in the middle of harvesting.
“It increases the cost by 30 per cent or more because it’s (the harvest) a lot slower,” said Australian Mango Industry Association (AMIA) Far North Queensland director and Mareeba grower, John Nucifora.
The rain is a dampener on what is already a poor season for the Mareeba-Dimbulah region, with volumes of the Kensington Pride variety down by about 30-40 per cent.
However, prices are holding firm, according to Mr Nucifora. He has hired 65 workers to pick fruit over the season, which will be extended until early March by later varieties.
“I’m hoping that the rain stops and we can finish the harvest,” he said.
A “pretty terrible” KP and R2E2 season has proved a blessing in disguise for Mareeba grower Matt Fealy who finished picking before the rain arrived.
“While this rain will be very stressful for some people, for us we’ve been able to enjoy it and watch it fill our avocados out, and the dam as well,” he said.
“All the water coming down the channel is nice and brown. That says all the floodwaters are making it to Tinaroo.
“As much as this is causing a headache, I don’t think there will be too many farmers unhappy with the rain.
“The way the dam was looking, this time next year it would be empty ... at least we’ve got the opportunity to grow crops next year.”
In 2015, Mr Fealy made headlines when he plucked a rare 1.44kg KP mango from the production line, which he dubbed “Mangozilla” and auctioned off for charity.
This year, his mango weighed 1.09kg.
Mr Fealy said farmers had a small window to harvest fruit before it ripened on the tree.
“It’s a fine line that we all biggest teeter on,” he said.
“The biggest problem is rain just takes away our control over picking – choosing when we want to go in and pick based on fruit maturity.
“Anything that goes ripe on the tree is waste because it’s soft when it goes through the handling process in the supply chain and no good by the time it gets to the other end.”
AMIA Far North Queensland director and Mareeba grower, John Nucifora hopes the rain will soon stop to allow him to finish the harvest.