While the weather is usually the biggest uncertainty for the Territory's mango growers, this year it is the pandemic. Northern Territory mango growers are taking extraordinary steps to overcome a labour shortage due to COVID-19-related border closures.
Strangely, COVID-19 may well be the greatest threat on farm, but it appears to be creating opportunity in the market. Demand is surging and retail prices have risen by up to 50 per cent as people splurge on small luxuries and worry more about their health.
At Michael Curtis's farm in Katherine, the mango packing shed is buzzing with workers all wearing face masks reading "we love mangoes" and it is certainly a sign of the times. Curtis said a labour shortage because of COVID-19 was the biggest uncertainty for his business this season. "Trying to get the people here has just been absolutely exhausting, so I feel like the first day is like the last day of mango season.”
He secured some seasonal workers from Vanuatu on the pilot seasonal workers program that landed in September. Aside from that, Mr Curtis had taken on mostly inexperienced workers from anywhere he could find.
The Australian Mango Industry Association says retail prices has risen up to 50 per cent on the back of strong consumer demand. Australian Mango Industry Association chief executive Robert Gray said the industry watched nervously as shopping habits changed with the pandemic. "We're always a bit nervous about any sort of change like that," he told abc.net.au.