THE Top End's ever-changing weather patterns are providing mango growers with challenges they haven't faced for a number of seasons.
Two poor Wet seasons and fickle Dry seasons have made it difficult for growers in the Top End to predict the upcoming season.
That combined with some early onset rains in recent weeks has meant that trees have required constant attention.
Acacia Hills farm manager Martina Matzner said the conditions had definitely provided a challenge.
The farm on the outskirts of Darwin grows calypso mangoes and has about 50,000 trees and a section set aside for carambolas.
"It's going to be a late season for us because the fruit is still at an early stage,” Martina said.
"I don't expect to be harvesting until the first week of November.
"But when I first came to Darwin in the early '90s that used to be the norm anyway, the season didn't start till the end of October or early November.”
Martina said it was "a bit early to say” how much impact, if any, the recent rains might have had on the season's crop.
"It (recent rain) complicates things and it makes more work, but in reality, if you look at the bigger picture we had such a dry Dry and Wet season we really could do with some rain.”
While the rains may have minimal impact on the timing of the start of the harvest, Martina said the real challenge would come if it rained during harvest.
"At the moment we are looking at a four-week harvest, but if it rains during that time it could push that out to six weeks and that may create issues.
"Because you can't pick while it is raining so it extends the harvest and in turn, if you have to stop and start all the time it can become a logistical nightmare because you have customers waiting, trucks booked and staff wanting to work but they can't.”
Pushing the harvest closer to Christmas also potentially creates other challenges for the farm.
Acacia Hills employs about 130 people during its peak harvest period, and many of those are backpackers.
"When Christmas comes around many of the backpackers prefer to be around the bigger cities like Melbourne and Sydney where all the fireworks and fun is happening,” Martina said.
"But once the harvest is over we still need 45 to 50 people to do work to set up for next year. So it might be a bit tricky to keep enough here for the after harvest work.
"And that work, which takes about three to four weeks, is just as important as the harvest itself because it sets the orchard up for next year, so the closer we get to Christmas it will become a challenge to hold enough staff.”
Acacia Hills Farm is also an active participant in research in the Top End and this year it will involve some of the work it has done with infrared scanning guns, or NIR Gun, used to measure dry matter and moisture content of mangoes.
The meter uses "near- infrared spectroscopy” to assess fruit maturity and skin colour to enable growers to confirm with greater certainty the right time for harvesting.
The NIR also provides a GPS location of the fruit in the orchard.
"This year we are going to be getting satellite imagery of the farm and we will be able to overlay that with our NIR readings and then see what that tells us about the farm.
"It's really exciting,” Martina said.
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