Rain brings hope but much more needed

PROMISING START: Michael McDouall stands in the March rain at his Kabra avocado and mango farm.
PROMISING START: Michael McDouall stands in the March rain at his Kabra avocado and mango farm. Allan Reinikka

FOR the first time in almost two decades, drought conditions have forced Michael McDouall to water his crop in the wet season.

The horticulturist, who owns the MMM Mango/Avocado Farm at Kabra with his wife Julie, has owned the farm for 18 years.

The 32 hectares have 4000 mango trees and 600 avocado trees.

Michael said they've had one of the driest years on record, but the family had enjoyed some moisture this week, after a downpour began on Tuesday morning.

"This is the first time in 18 years we had to water the mangoes in the wet season," he said.

"We've been using irrigation water but it's nothing like rain water.

"It makes the fruit better and it responds twice as well."

Mangoes are drought-tolerant due to their tap root but Michael said if you didn't look after them, they wouldn't look after you.

About a month ago, he had to water them with about 150 millimetres of irrigation water to get them ready to flower.

"To get up for the next harvest, we need at least 250mm of rainwater in the wet season," he said. "It's been one of the driest years on record."

In the next few weeks, avocadoes would be ready for harvest. The avocado root system is very shallow, so keeping the top soil moisture was very important, Michael said.

He said normally they didn't have to worry about watering them in the wet season, but this season they had to water them every fortnight.

"You need around 50 millimetres every fortnight in a heavy fruit-set," he said.

"We're lucky, we've got an underground water supply."

It was a disappointing start to the wet season, with several cyclones delivering only wind to the area.

But by mid-Tuesday, they had about 22mm.

"The best part about getting this rain now, at the end of March, is that it's cooler weather," he said.

"It sinks into the ground, so it's worth twice as much in the cooler weather."

The McDoualls moved to Kabra in 1996, after selling two cattle properties they owned in NSW.

Michael said he decided to change from cattle to horticulture because it was less stressful, jokingly referring to his avocados as a 'retirement crop'.

"There's no rush with avocados … you can take up to six months to pick them," he said. "Mangoes wait for nobody. Once they're ready, you've got to pick them."

While most of their mango crop is sold in Sydney or Brisbane, a high percentage of avocados was sold locally.

Topics:  avocados drought horticulture mangoes rain