Dave Dingle pictured with his son Cam, 12, in 2018, during a better mango season.
Dave Dingle pictured with his son Cam, 12, in 2018, during a better mango season.

Not so sweet: The trials of growing mangoes in drought

The drought made last mango season an exercise in persistence and frustration for growers around Gladstone.

On his farm west of Calliope, Dave Dingle picked 15 crates across his entire patch of 652 trees.

When conditions are good, he can get around 3000.

"It's been a pretty ordinary sort of a year, no question about it," he said.

And while 2020/21 is looking better, the challenge of making a dollar out of the fruit is still considerable.

The trees had a heavy prune last year, and without rain to stimulate new growth, Dave says 400 cases would be a good result.

"We never got the rain to help me grow them back again," he said.

"They're more or less stumps with a couple of branches."

Irrigated bore water is being used to keep the trees alive, but it doesn't compare to what falls from the sky.

"At the end of the day, it's not rain water," he said.

Yields were also down at Don McEachran's farm on Spring Valley Road in Yarwun, but the decline was not as dramatic.

"We didn't do too badly, but the dry impacted us pretty well," he said.

Crops were down about 40 per cent compared to a good season, with Honey Golds fairing slightly better than KPs and R2s.

While the recent rains have everything looking nice at green, Don said the wet weather will have to continue to get to a point where sub soil is retaining moisture.

"We can easily slip back to where we were before," he said.

But he remains confident of a better season in 2020/21.

"To me the signs are there," he said.

Don sells some of his mangoes to buyers in Sydney, and grows the Honey Golds for Piñata Farms which holds the rights to the variety.

About a decade ago, Dave made a decision to reduce the number of trees from 1430 to 652, and sells his fruit direct to the public.

"It was half the patch, half the work and we were making twice as much," he said.

When he has mangoes to sell, he gets around $20 a tray on the side of the road.

If he were to go through a buyer, he says the figure would be about half that.

"They're not interested in dealing direct with the farmer," he said of the major supermarkets.

But you might not see much of him on the side of the road next mango season.

With cattle to keep alive, he says he might pick the fruit a pallet at a time and use it to help reduce feed costs.

"We're still poking along, but we're spending every cent we earn on feeding cattle," he said.

Despite working upwards of 15 hours a day, seven days a week, he stays positive.

"You can't be anything else in this sort of game," he said.