Sunburnt mangoes cost industry millions
MANGO growers across North Queensland are looking at millions of dollars worth of losses after last week's heatwave left their fruit sunburnt and unsellable.
Bowen Gumlu Growers president Carl Walker said most growers lost an average 30 per cent of their crops during the heat, with temperatures soaring into the 40s for most of the week.
"One grower from Bowen said they're going to lose 100 per cent of their crop; they don't normally start picking until pretty soon but the heat just wrecked them all," he said.
In unusually high heat, the skin of fruit can actually burn the same as it would a human.
"If you can imagine if you burn your skin, it leaves a brown mark on your skin - exactly the same as a mango," Mr Walker said.
"It's like someone has painted brown on it so it literally looks burnt.
"There's nothing wrong with the fruit inside but that's the mad thing about mangoes … it's a non-edible skin, yet if the outside doesn't look perfect, people don't buy it.
"It's quite heartbreaking because growers have to throw perfectly good-tasting fruit."
While there is a product that acts as a sunscreen - a clear film that can be sprayed on to protect the fruit - Mr Walker said last week's heatwave "caught a lot of people unawares".
The Bowen farmer said the devastating losses not only affected growers, but the entire industry.
"(The losses) would be in the millions; it's also the lost employment, the cash turnovers, the box companies, the workers and transport doesn't have that much freight to move … everyone loses a cut of the pie," Mr Walker said.
"All we can hope for now is the prices to come up; it'll have a domino effect if there's less supply."
An elusive local grower, wanting only to be known as Townsville's Mango Man, told the Bulletin that while some orders would be filled, "most of the crop is going to juice".
"Fruit is very temperamental; your flowers could be going good but then rain would make it too cold or the heat would make it worse … we were already down 50 per cent, then the last couple of weeks we got hit really bad with sunburn," he said.
The family, which has been farming for 50 years, won't be manning their usual Mundingburra stall this year, instead delivering what they can to customers' homes.
"Because we've got the suppliers' demands we serve them first but we always make enough for the public; we're proud Townsvillians," the Mango Man said. "They won't last long this year; everyone's pretty sad but that's farming for you."
Meanwhile, Burdekin mango grower Peter Le Feuvre is in the final throes of picking 18,000 trees at his Corrick Plains plantation.
He said it had been an up-and-down year but it could have been worse.
He has lost some fruit to sunburn and wild storms and now, with the Atherton Tableland in full harvest, the price has dropped to cost-of-production levels. In the early part of the season the price fetched per carton was reasonable, he said.
"We were getting $34 a tray," Mr Le Feuvre said.
However, he said the price went down to $15-$20 a tray, while the cost of production, or the break-even price, was close to $15 a tray.
Mr Le Feuvre said despite pre-selling and being fastidious about his marketing, the bulk of the fruit he sent to market this year would have averaged less than $20 a tray.