Q&A with Coles Mango Grower Marie Piccone
The children at Mount Molloy Primary School have picked the mind of Coles mango farmer Marie Piccone from Manbulloo Farms in Queensland and the Northern Territory to help solve all your mango mysteries. Did you know that giving someone a basket of mangoes is considered a gesture of friendship? Or that the oldest living mango tree is 300 years old, it is still growing fruit and can be found in East Khandesh in India. Mangoes are related to cashews and pistachios. A fruit well-worth celebrating, mango is the national fruit of India, Pakistan and the Philippines. Read on to find out what’s the go with growing a mango.
Do you cut the trees after a few seasons of mangoes?
Soon after we plant the young mango trees (about 10 months old), we do some tree training where we create a structure of branches coming from the main trunk that will enable the tree to be strong and stable to carry a heavy crop of mangoes starting when it is about 3-4 years.
Once the trees are older, we prune the sides and the tops if they start to get too large and crowd each other. It is important to always allow sunlight to reach the sides and tops of all the trees. If the trees get too crowded and shade each other, then they don’t get enough sunlight. Without enough sunlight they cannot photosynthesize. Low light levels reaching the tree canopy mean the trees lose some of their leaves, photosynthetic rates get very low and they don’t produce many flowers or fruit.
What do you do when mangoes are not in season?
We care for the mango trees all year. Before and after harvest, we irrigate the trees regularly and monitor them for pests and diseases. We fertilize at specific times to ensure the trees stay healthy and fruitful and we control the weeds that compete with the trees for water and nutrients. We also sometimes slash the grass in the inter-rows.
Really the only time we are not doing something in the field is when it is raining, or it is Christmas day! As well as looking after the trees, we are doing lots of maintenance and evaluation of equipment that is used in the field, the packhouse and to cool the mangoes before they leave the farm. We also have Manbulloo team reviews and planning meetings to discuss how we can improve. We meet, review and plan with the Coles team (we call the combined Coles and Manbulloo mango team, Team Mango). We meet with many of our key suppliers, like transport companies and our packaging suppliers.
We work on Energy Efficiency projects, IT projects, Workplace Health and Safety improvement, research projects to evaluate new ways to grow and handle our mangoes and avocados to improve fruit quality and we also focus on supply chain projects.
How tall do your trees get?
Mangoes will grow very tall if they are not pruned. The height range we maintain with our trees depends on their age, the original planting spacing they were planted at and the variety. Some older trees get as tall as 8 metres before we prune them back to about 5.2 m tall. Others only get as tall as 6 metres before we prune them back to about 4 m tall.
How many mangoes do you harvest on an average day?
There is no such thing as an average day during mango harvest! About 10-14 days after mangoes are first mature and ready to harvest, they will fall off the trees and be bruised and ruined. We harvest, according to when the fruit is ready and sometimes that is a race against time. Some days, we harvest as many as 300 000 mangoes on one farm. Sometimes we harvest much less than this – it really depends on what is ready to harvest at that particular time.
How many varieties of mangoes do you have?
Manbulloo is the largest grower of Kensington Pride (KP) mangoes in Australia. This is because we know that the flavour and eating experience of KP (also known as the Bowen mango) is very much loved by Australians and consumers around the world. We also grow smaller volumes of other varieties: Brooks, Keitt, Dragontooth, Palmer, R2E2 and Rosa.
How long does it take to grow a mango?
The growth rate of a mango fruit depends on the air temperature in the location where it is hanging on the tree. In the Northern Territory where the temperatures are warmest during the night and day, from flowering and fruit set to when the mango is ready to harvest in about 105 – 120 days. In cooler growing regions like the Atherton Tablelands (an elevated growing region behind Cairns in North Queensland) the mangoes take about 130 – 140 days from fruit set to fruit maturity.
Do you grow other crops or just mangoes?
We have some smaller plantings of avocados and have just planted jackfruit. Watch this space!
How much water do you use to grow mangoes?
The volume of water that the mango tree needs depends on the daily temperature and whether we have any rainfall at that time. The mangoes need most water during flowering and soon after while the mangoes are developing and growing on the trees. We use soil and plant moisture monitoring probes to guide us on how much water the mango trees are using and how much they need to avoid any water stress and be healthy and productive. Sometimes, a large mature mango tree needs a maximum of about 2300 litres of water per tree per week. Depending on the stage of the crop cycle (e.g. flowering versus the trees’ rest phase during autumn), their water needs vary greatly.
Where do you get the mango seeds from?
We harvest our own mangoes, send them to a processor who removes the flesh and then sends our Manbulloo seeds to a nursery who then plants the seeds and grows rootstock trees for us.
How do you harvest your mangoes?
Mango trees and fruit produce sap naturally. When we harvest each piece of fruit, some sap spurts out of the stem where we break the fruit from the “flower stalk”. The mango pickers (who are a well-trained and amazing group of people) place the mangoes into a mango wash (neutralizing detergent solution) to prevent the sap from burning the outside of the fruit and burning other fruit sitting in the harvest bins.
We use two types of machines to assist the pickers to harvest the mangoes. We have a total of 41 harvest machines. Hydraladas – operated by one person who picks mangoes with their hands into a plastic picking bag and then places the mangoes into their larger picking bin. Great for picking taller trees and for selective picking where only some of the mangoes are ready to harvest. Harvest aids – operated by one person and manned by three – five people where the pickers use picking sticks and cut the mangoes from the flower stalks and place or drop them onto horizontal and vertical tarps (which are part of the machine) where the mangoes are drenched in mango wash and then moved into harvest bins. These machines are used for picking smaller trees or the bottom half of tall trees and are great for use when a large percentage of the mangoes are ready to harvest.
To support the pickers, the rest of the field harvest team are out in the field doing other roles:
Harvest manager who plans the harvest, ensures everyone is safe and is responsible for training the supervisors and the entire field team – with assistance from the supply chain team and the harvest supervisors.
Bin runners who drop empty bins for the pickers and collect full bins to transport from the field to the packhouse
The “Petrol head” who refuels all the picking machines all day long and provides icy cold water refills to all pickers all day long
Mango wash drivers who replace old used mango wash with new clean mango wash for all the picking machines
The water truck drivers who wet the roads to make sure the dirt roads on the farm are not dusty during harvest to prevent dust and skin abrasion occurring on the fruit in the bins when it is being transported from the field to the packhouse.
The mechanic who makes sure the maintenance and repairs are done on the harvest equipment.
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