Brenda Strong

Much ado about mangoes

HEAVY rains and hungry lorikeets are just some of the problems that could hurt Northern Rivers mango farmers this season.

Despite a few problems early in the season - and too much wind - this year's crop is starting to look "alright", according to Yelgun-based mango farmer, Steve Baker.

He manages a 5000-tree farm with his wife, Terri.

Picking can start as early as February, but the longer fruit can be left on the tree the more chance it will get to market when the Queensland supply runs out.

That means higher prices for local growers.

But there is still along way to go, Mr Baker said.

"Mangoes are a very challenging crop to grow in this area, particularly in the wet season," he said.

"We have had 30 inches of rain across the harvest season in the past. It makes it very challenging."

Mike Coleman has 7000 mango tress on his property in the Hogarth Ranges south-west of Casino, and agreed there was some good fruit on trees, especially near the coast.

But he also noted prices were low at the moment because of high supply levels.

Heavy rain, bats and lorikeets can play havoc with crops before it can be picked, Mr Coleman said.

He also said farmers were being squeezed by increasing costs and falling prices.

Mr Coleman used to lead the Northern NSW Mango Growers Association, but the group disbanded more than a year ago.

"We couldn't get quorum at meetings and the association wasn't achieving a great deal," he said.

"There was low morale among the growers."

Back in 2000, Mr Baker had concerns about his business so he stumped his Kensington Pride variety trees, and grafted on a new variety called Honey Gold.

"If you haven't had a good Honey Gold, you haven't had a mango," he said.

"We didn't think KP was suitable for this production area because you compete too much with Mareeba, where there is a much better growing climate," he said.

The change of variety also meant a new focus on the "premium market".

"Even cheaper stores are starting to demand higher quality," Mr Baker said.

In rough terms the strategy has halved his farming area, doubled the quality of fruit and trebled turnover.


Tasty fruit

Fossil evidence indicates the mango made its first appearance 30 million years ago in northeast India, Myanmar and Bangladesh

Australians eat eight million trays of mangoes each year

Don't buy completely green mangoes - they many not ripen