ABC Rural By Lucie Bell
Updated about 10 hours ago
PHOTO: Eddie Smith estimates 15 per cent of his unripe mango crop is on the ground, after strong winds. (Lucie Bell)
Recent blustering winds have taken their toll on some growers' crops in Western Australia's Gascoyne region.
At Calypso Plantation in Carnarvon, mangoes are littered beneath the trees and are starting to rot on the ground.
Owner Eddie Smith grows six varieties but says it's his R2E2s which have taken the hardest hit with the weather.
"We had three days of 60 to 70 kilometre/hour winds and the old trees are struggling to carry as it is because of the water situation," he said.
"The bulk of my crop is the R2E2s, I call them our bread and butter fruit, they basically carry this place.
"So we had a wind thinning process and I reckon I lost pretty close to 15 per cent of my R2E2s, on our other varieties it wasn't quite as bad."
Mr Smith says while winds are common in Carnarvon at this time of year, his trees were particularly affected due to ongoing dry spell stress this season.
At this time last year, Carnarvon growers were on an alternate-day watering regime and for most of this year they have been capped at 80 per cent of their usual water allocation.
Mr Smith says he fears with summer around the corner, the wind damage may be about to be compounded by heat.
"The real concern I have now is if we get a burn event," he said.
"There are one or two properties that have shade cloth, which does make a difference, but it also affects the fruit's ripening and sugar content, restricts the tree height and it's hugely expensive."
Carnarvon has one of Australia's latest mango producing seasons, with most growers in the region picking around or just after Christmas.
Mr Smith says, despite the weather conditions, he's hopeful that they will pick in about six weeks time.
"We've got one variety that flowered five or six weeks early, so I'm watching them carefully," he said.
"We might pick a few ahead of schedule, but I don't think it'll be too many."
New bore to bring water relief
The WA Government is continuing with its multi-million-dollar Gascoyne Food Bowl plan, which aims to significantly expand horticulture around Carnarvon.
As part of plans to open up 400 additional hectares for food production, the state government has been looking for additional water to support that land.
A campaign in the northern borefield has seen 45 exploratory holes drilled so far, with seven likely to be considered production-worthy.
Those seven are due to be flow-tested in the coming weeks.
The Department of Agriculture and Food's (DAFWA) Tony Della Bosca says, in light of the ongoing dry spell, at least one of those new bores is likely to be made available, temporarily, to existing growers.
"We're hoping that growers should have access to at least one of those new bores within the next two weeks," he said.
"It's a substantial bore compared to some of the other less productive holes, so I would assume it will certainly assist."
With a low bore salt level of around 400-500 parts per million, Carnarvon banana grower Tom Day says that's very good news.
Mr Day is also the chairman of GWAMCO (Gascoyne Water Assets Mutual Co-operative), which will be the body to tap the new water and connect it up to existing growers' tanks.
"That bore test air-flowed at 23 litres a second, which is quite a bit of water," he said.
"I'm led to believe that in the next couple of days that will be test pumped and once that happens, the Ag Department has allowed us to hook up to that new bore.
"So that will probably keep us at around the 80 per cent allocation mark, for the rest of this season."
Mr Day says growers should also see a drop in water costs with the switch from diesel to electric power across the system.
"Diesel has certainly been a huge cost to us, to keep water up," he said.
It's not just mango growers, such as Eddie Smith, whose crops need the water at the moment.
Grapes and watermelons are currently being picked and bananas production is year-round.
"It's obvious that a lot of people are not happy, everyone is trying very hard to make a quid," Mr Day said.
"We need a river desperately, that will change the mood of a lot of people, there's no doubt about that."