A leading Australian pineapple grower has made the decision to move production of the fruit out of the Northern Territory indefinitely because the hot weather is affecting yields.
Piñata Farms Managing Director Gavin Scurr says supply will be made up at the company's other two farms in Queensland: Wamuran and Mareeba.
"Over the past few summers, it's been tough. This one was a better one, there was a bit less heat, but the ones before that were pretty brutal," Mr Scurr said. "We've stopped planting pineapples for the time being. When we came over to Darwin, we stopped expanding because we didn't want an oversupply. So now we have ramped up plantings in Southern Queensland to cover what we used to do up here. The demand for pineapples has been interesting with COVID-19, with the fruit being a good immune booster and people understanding the health benefits more and more. It all comes down to people wanting to take the effort to cut it up, it has never been the most convenient fruit, but once people make the effort to cut it up, it is a great product and per kilo, one of the cheapest fruits on the shelf."
Photo credit: Piñata Farms/Aqua PR
Mr Scurr says the Honey Gold mango crop is looking quite good and is thriving in the Northern Territory at the Darwin, Katherine and Mataranka farms.
"It has settled down quite nicely, with a bit of chill by mid-May," he said. "We're pretty confident there will be some good flowering and a good crop. It is set up nicely. At this time of year, it is looking as good as you could hope for. For us, we don't start until October, because we don't chase the early flowering/fruit. Mango season is always exciting. Last season we had a near-identical season in terms of volume to the year before, for the company, within 5,000 trays. The industry has been slightly down, so it was good news that Honey Golds did so well yield-wise here in the Territory. We had good crops and the quality was good and we didn't get held up with any weather."
He added that the new export facility at Darwin Airport is a boost for Piñata Farms, which will help get fruit into key markets, particularly in Asia. While he does not think there will be huge volumes in the first year, international supply will grow year on year.
"It is a fantastic facility, and it is built for the future," he said. "Last year, due to COVID and the lack of airfreight it didn't really get up and running. But this year, we are hoping there are more planes flying around. I am led to believe that there will be direct flights from Darwin to Singapore, as early as the next few weeks. It is certainly a state-of-the-art facility and has the potential to export a lot of mangoes out of Darwin to our northern neighbours. Especially with the VHT treatment there as well, it opens up markets like China, Korea and Japan that previously had to be transported to the east coast. The cost and time have been an impediment in developing that market."
Photo: Gavin Scurr with a tray of Honey Gold mangoes
Piñata Farms is still facing issues with the lack of available labour, brought on by the Australian borders being closed due to COVID-19, which has affected many horticulture farms nationwide. He warned of fruit shortages across Australia unless more quarantine facilities were made available to bring in seasonal workers from overseas.
"Working out how much labour we are going to have to harvest the fruit is our biggest concern heading into the next season," Mr Scurr said. "Hopefully this can be sorted quickly. Seasonal workers have been an important part of our workforce, but it is hard to bring them in when there is no quarantine available. We are still moving workers between our farms, and while we have people working for us, we are happy to pay their shifting costs. We are shifting our crew around to make sure that we have a workforce - only because we can't get labour any other way in the locations that we need it. They also appreciate being in different areas too."
As one of the leading fruit growers in the Northern Territory, Mr Scurr attended the recent Northern Australia Food Futures Conference in Darwin and says the region has great potential for growth.
"I have been to the past four conferences aimed at developing the north and each one gets more positive," Mr Scurr said. "What I enjoyed about this year's event was that it was so upbeat and the attitude from the presenters from the government right down to the farmers who are up here doing things. The issues are being acknowledged and discussed, so people are looking at solutions rather than just bringing up problems. There appears to be an appetite for the three state governments that make up the north (Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia) to get on and make things happen. There is a huge amount of opportunities. There's a huge amount of land and water. We need to cut the red tape and get the infrastructure for private business to get on with it and make decisions."