Harvesting aids a boon for mangoes
Honey Gold mango producer, Piñata Farms Pty Ltd, has launched the Australian mango industry's first custom-made harvesting aids and introduced night picking at its Northern Territory farms.
Managing director, Gavin Scurr, said three bespoke harvesting aids, designed to maintain fruit quality and prolong shelf life were operating at its Katherine and Mataranka farms for the first time this season.
The aids, which cost $190,000 each to manufacture, were built to Piñata Farms' specifications by Lockyer Valley-based agricultural engineering firm, Starkbilt. Trialled last season, they are all in operation in the Northern Territory this season.
"The objective was to design an aid that is gentler on fruit by reducing the number of times it is handled, resulting in better-looking fruit and better shelf life," Mr Scurr said.
Each aid requires a picking crew of eight to 10 to operate, including a driver. The double-sided aids work through the rows, with harvesters picking fruit from both sides.
"All fruit is now picked off the tree by hand and placed on an elevator built into the aid. This carries the fruit to a water bath to wash off the highly acidic sap that mangoes produce," he said.
"Fruit then travels on another elevator to be rinsed and is deposited gently into bins which, when full, are transported by forklift to the packing shed.
"Traditionally mangoes are picked by hand, bounced into a trampoline and washed and rinsed by hand. With these new aids, fruit is only touched once by hand, resulting in less bruising.
Night picking trial begins
"We've also introduced night picking for the first time at our Northern Territory farms. This is both kinder to the picking crew and the fruit which is less fragile in the cool and retains freshness for longer."
Mr Scurr said three quarters of this year's Northern Territory harvest would be conducted at night, moving to 100 per cent night harvesting next season.
Northern Territory Honey Golds are harvested seven days a week from 10pm to 7am when the average temperature is 26 degrees celsius – a far cry from the average daily temperature which can exceed 50 degrees.
"Between the new aids and night harvesting, we expect to achieve a 20 per cent increase in efficiencies this season. We are now picking a bin of fruit every eight minutes on each machine."
He said the new aids would only be used in the Top End for now with older aids relocated to farms in Queensland. Piñata Farms’ most remote orchards are spread over a vast 80 hectares.
Progressive harvest underway
Mr Scurr said this year's Katherine harvest was expected to end in mid-December. Picking began at Mataranka in late November and the Queensland Honey Gold harvest is set to begin in North Queensland on December 15. Queensland produces about 60 per cent of the total crop – although on smaller farms.
Piñata Farms has 140,000 trees on 500 hectares under cultivation. Honey Gold mangoes are grown exclusively by Piñata Farms and 36 contracted growers in five mainland states.
Honey Gold mangoes are available at leading supermarkets and independent retail stores under the Piñata brand Australia-wide.