For the past few months, a Queensland mango grower has been installing state of the art grading technology, which will hopefully significantly improve productivity and fruit quality this summer.
With the harvest season beginning next week, Marto's Mangoes, in Bowen, has been racing to install the MAF RODA Global Scan 7 grader. The company was initially looking for some technology where they are grading some external defects on mangoes, and after some homework, which included a trip to Fruit Logistica in Berlin, decided to go "all-out".
"The definition on the cameras that MAF has and the level of defect accuracy that it was picking up was second to none," Co-owner Ben Martin said. "The technology we have got on this grader is a full turnkey setup from MAF, so they have their DIR robotic bin tipper, pre-feeds, wash units, brush units, hot spray units, polishing tunnels etc. That goes onto the grader and they have the Global Scan 7 camera system on there; it will do external defects, size, colour and it has load cells in there too for weight."
Photo: Ben and Ash-Lei Martin and their new MAF Roda grader
Mr Martin added that the company wanted to go a step further in getting the most out of their investment, working with MAF RODA to install IDD and Insight cameras to look at the dry matter, Brix and internal defects of mangoes, which was unique to this fruit.
"As an industry, we have set a minimum standard for dry matter to ensure the eating quality of the fruit," he said. "So, previously what has been done is people have randomly test fruit in the orchard. MAF has never installed an insight line for mangoes before. We are the first they have done that on, so every piece of fruit can be graded on dry matter content. We then went and put the IDD 4 on, which is the internal defect sorter, so any jelly tips or cavities it will grade that out as well."
Photo: MAF RODA Grader during construction in August
This consistency in the quality of the produce will be the main benefit to Marto's Mangoes, hopefully driving repeat sales and gaining more brand recognition. But the introduction of the technology will also help with staffing in a COVID-19 affected year. Mr Martin admits that it has been a huge step up from previous systems.
"Previously, we used a mechanical weight grader and just visually sorted the fruit," he said. "So, to see what we had to this is it chalk and cheese. We have been pretty advanced with technology in our business. Around six or seven years ago we developed our business management app, which manages everything from our purchase order management to ordering, to retentions samples, to quality assurance, invoicing and freight management. This grader is going to integrate well with this system, and directly send information on packouts, dry matter content and purchase orders through to the app. That will get loaded with the purchase order and when we send the invoice out, it will all be attached to that. Buyers can see defects, the average weights and counts etc."
Photo: Testing of the MAF RODA Globalscan 7 camera system
Marto's Mangoes started in 1990, with Ben's parents Gary and Bernadette, on a small scale farm, growing three varieties: R2E2, Bowen Special (Kensington Pride) and Keitt. It started with high-density plantings, which Ben admits was new for the industry at that time. He added that while the R2E2 and Keitt thrived in high-density, the Bowen Specials did not, so they focused on developing R2E2 to a high-quality. The business has progressively expanded, buying neighbouring blocks, the most recent in 2018 where Ben and his wife Ash-Lei bought another property to bring the tally to 20,000 trees.
"We are still continuing to plant each year to increase our plantings," he said. "My mum and dad are still heavily involved, and my wife Ash-Lei and our kids - so it is a team effort. Last year, I was lucky enough to get the Australian Young Farmer of the Year award. As much as I was the one up there getting the award, it really has been a family effort. Without them, I wouldn't be accepting awards like that. That's a credit to the business to be recognised at that level."
Photo: Marto's Mangoes pre-harvest testing
The family are hoping for another strong mango season in 2020 production-wise, but admit that it will be challenging due to the global pandemic, affecting markets around the world.
"To be honest, there are a few unknowns because COVID has thrown a spanner in the works," he said. "Whether it is labour, freight availability for export, increase in costs. So, it will be an interesting season, to say the least. We are hopeful that consumers will be looking forward to really good tasting, good eating Australian mangoes this year. Hopefully, we can drive that with domestic consumers and keep moving forward as an industry. Our harvest is just around the corner. So, far we have been buying fruit from the Northern Territory to condition the grader, but come Monday it should be pretty smooth sailing."