Weather damp­ens prime pick­ing time

Tablelands Advertiser - - NEWS - Kimberley Vlasic

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.”

Pic­ture: Kather­ine Kokko­nen

AMIA Far North Queens­land di­rec­tor and Ma­reeba grower, John Nu­ci­fora hopes the rain will soon stop to al­low him to fin­ish the har­vest.

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