By Charlie McKillop
AUDIO: Dumping of mangoes has raised many questions about food waste, as Charlie McKillop discovered when she posted a photo on social media (ABC Rural)
It's hard for anyone to imagine beautiful far north Queensland mangoes could be worth nothing.
After all, mangoes are the 'king of fruits', which is why consumers are so willing to pay top dollar for premium product. But what becomes of fruit that doesn't make the grade?
The sad reality this summer is tonnes and tonnes of mangoes have ended up on the scrapheap for no reason other than their appearance.
A loss of juicing contracts and a bumper season in the Mareeba-Dimbulah district resulted in tons of blemished fruit, that won't make the premium grade, being thrown out.
Mango grower Merryl Patane said it is a reflection of the market that thousands of mangoes will end up in a dry gully on their small farm, outside of Mareeba.
"There's nowhere else to put them. We need the cage for tomorrow for more fruit to be dumped," she said.
"It's very sad. Just visual, it's just looks. It's not affecting the flesh whatsoever. Apparently no-one will buy that."
The challenge of marketing fruit that does not "meet retail specification" has become more apparent following a steep decline in juicing contracts in recent years.
Australian Mango Industry Association president Robert Gray said it was a combination of less demand for blended juice products and the availability of much cheaper puree imported from countries such as Mexico, Brazil and India.
"Labour's a big component of our cost structure, plus we've got to transport the raw material often thousands of kilometres to where the product's processed. And in the case of mangoes, about half of that product is seed and skin."
"So yeah, we are an expensive producer of puree and we need to make sure we're developing markets for products where the benefits of our mangoes are better aligned with what consumers want."
But judging from the angry reaction by consumers on social media networks to photographs of mangoes destined to be dumped, that's not necessarily so.
Many have questioned why the fruit could not be processed, value-added or, at the very least, donated to charity. But Mr Gray said that is not so easy.
"A big percentage of this fruit is going through the processing channel because it doesn't have the legs to make it through the (fresh fruit) channel. It may be a little bit overripe or it may have a cut in the surface of the fruit that may cause issues through that channel," he said.
"The market for second grade and third grade through the retail channel this year has seen huge growth and we're continuing to drive that... and provide a value equation for consumers that inspires them to buy our products whether it's through ice-blocks, or frozen cheeks or products that have puree in them that have that unique, Australian flavour.
"It's not any easy job. The quick fix would be saying 'look, let's just bundle this fruit up in boxes and send to market', that's not going to work.
"You've got to identify the markets, develop the processes to get that product to market and then grow those markets."
But still the reality of the fresh fruit and vegetables that will never make it to the supermarket shelf because of its aesthetic shortcomings has struck a chord with many in the public. Many organisations such as OzHarvest's REAP program and Second Bite has emerged from grassroots initiatives aimed at tackling food waste.
A photo posted on social media networks of the Mareeba mangoes destined to be dumped evoked an outpouring of anger and disbelief at the senseless waste of a precious commodity.
Melbourne resident Katy Barfield was one of hundreds of people to respond on Twitter.
"We have so many people that I know who'd want access to that product. People who have children who go to school without anything in their lunchbox, families who are struggling to put food on the table," she tweeted.
"It is a disgrace. It's an absolute market failure when we've got farmers who cannot sell their beautiful, quality products and bring that to market for people who want to purchase it."
So incensed by food waste was Ms Barfield that she established her own business, Spade and Barrow, in Melbourne 18 months to find a market for what she describes as 'perfectly imperfect' produce.
"I just realised that the food system is absolutely broken. It takes exactly the same input costs to grow a wonky carrot as it does to grow a straight one. The farmer gets no compensation for that whatsover and finds it hard to bring that product to market."
But even as a distributor of fresh food, Katy Barfield conceded she was not in a position to save the mangoes going to waste more than 4,000 kilometres away in Mareeba.
"One of the biggest challenges for us is logistics, actually getting that product to the various states and territories. We try to work as local as possible, so a lot of the farmers we're working with are within 100 kilometres of where we operate," she said.
"It's about collaboration. We're only going to solve these issues together."
Meanwhile, mango growers like Ross and Merryl Patane will work long hours in the oppressive far north Queensland summer, never knowing whether their efforts will be rewarded.
"If you have good quality and you can get it into the chain stores, you'll do okay with price, but there's a lot of fruit out there, so hopefully our quality will get us over the line," said Mrs Patane.