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AUSTRALIA 2015 - 2016 : Mango tree manipulation trial starts to bear fruit near Darwin

ABC Rural

By Matt Brann

Posted about an hour ago

MAP: Darwin 0800

A research trial aiming to extend the harvest window for mangoes is showing some excellent results on a farm near Darwin in the Northern Territory.

Mango trees across 10 hectares had their flowering "manipulated" and are now a few weeks away from harvest.

Farm manager Ross Maxwell said that without treatment the trees would have been producing fruit in November, like the majority of his orchard.

He said if the mango industry could start spreading out its harvest, there would be huge benefits to both farmers and consumers.

"It's about levelling out [the harvest], so instead of a peak which lasts a month, four to six weeks of going flat out, we hope to bring [harvest] forward a month and extend it a month,"  he told ABC Rural.

"If we spread out the crop over a longer period of time, we won't be inundated with a large volume of fruit leaving the Northern Territory at one time.

"We can spread it out, so the customer has a nice supply of NT mangoes for three months instead of two months."

00:00 AUDIO: Ross Maxwell explains the mango tree manipulation trial on his farm (ABC Rural)

The trees in the commercial-sized trial were sprayed with fertilisers and ripening gas to induce an earlier flowering.

Mr Maxwell said the results were better than expected.

"We didn't know how it would turn out because this is the first large-scale trial using this method," he said.

"We've got a lot of fruit, it's all even-sized, and it's very even fruiting, which will be easy to pick.

"We'll be able to go through and in one pick we'll have all of the fruit off and in trays, rather than doing two or three picks."

Mr Maxwell said he would expand the trial over more of his orchard next year because it had gone so well.

Ironically, a large-scale manipulation of mangoes trees would have been of great benefit to the Northern Territory's mango industry this year, in that it could have been used to even out the Darwin rural area's harvest, which in 2015 will be split into two harvests (September and November), creating a variety of logistical challenges across the supply chain.

Cambodian influence to research

The research being carried out on Ross Maxwell's farm has some of its origins in Cambodia, where Australian researchers spent the last two years working closely with the Cambodian industry through a project funded by the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR).

Cambodian mango growers have taken crop manipulation to a whole new level, by getting their trees to produce two crops a year.

Researcher Mark Hickey said advancing or delaying mango flowering had the potential to improve the efficiencies and profitability of the Australian mango industry.


PHOTO: Cambodian mango growers get two crops a year.(Matt Brann)

"We have been investigating flower manipulation techniques used by Cambodian mango farmers to induce out of season flowering and double-crop their mango trees,"  
he said.

"While double cropping may not be feasible in Australia, the techniques used to manipulate flowering and long-term impacts on tree health are of interest to our team.

"Being able to shift the time that flowering occurs will expand export opportunities.

"It will also increase the return on investment for equipment that can be utilised for a longer period of time and will reduce reluctance by producers to invest in new technology which potentially is only utilised for a few weeks of the year."

Mr Hickey said promoting early flowering and cropping was practised by some growers in Australia, mostly to access higher-priced market windows.

"A number of methods are used, including chemical treatments, selective pruning, restricting irrigation and organic amendments," he said.

"But the success of these programs has been limited by a misunderstanding of the role weather conditions has on the process and an incomplete suite of tools to redress the situation if orchards become out of synchrony with environmental conditions.

"The first stage of our research has involved optimising chemicals used worldwide that can potentially control flush growth and initiate and regulate flowering.

"Ethephon was thought to mature vegetative flush, but Australian research has shown that it can reset flushing patterns and remove insensitive immature leaves.

"This treatment increases the likelihood of trees being in a prime condition to receive the triggers to flower.

"Similarly, potassium nitrate has been widely used to give flowering more uniformity in Australian orchards, and work in the Northern Territory has shown that it can induce flowering in Kensington Pride trees in the absence of inductive temperatures.

"A better understanding of the long-term impacts and environmental effects of these chemicals on mango trees and pesticide residues is need and will be a component of this research."

Northern Territory mango season update

The mango harvest in the Northern Territory is starting to ramp up, with most growers in Darwin's rural area select picking this week.

More fruit is expected to be picked and sent to markets around the middle of September.

There will be two distinct harvests from the Darwin region this year, with the majority of fruit coming off in November.

Mangoes have been dribbling into the market since early August, with the first trays of the year fetching around $100 a tray.

That price has now eased to around $60-$70 a tray, which is still a good price for growers and much higher than the average.

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