Australia Weather News

Andrew Dalglish says 2020 was the worst production season he's had in years. - ABC

Top End farmer Andrew Dalglish says a record-low wet season and shortage of seasonal workers prevented him producing up to 80 per cent of his mango crop last year.

"It puts you back a few years but farming is not a straight line … you get some good ones and you get some bad ones," he said, referring to the worst production season on his Katherine property in years.

But while Top End mango growers suffered loses totalling about $10 million last year, they are expecting a record crop for the 2021 season, which starts in August, after heavy rainfall across the region since October.

"It's a great start so let's hope it keeps going and we get a beautiful dry season and plenty of mangoes," Mr Dalglish said.

The Northern Territory has, in recent years, produced more than half of Australia's mango supply.

Bureau of Meteorology records show the 2020 wet season was the worst on record for Katherine, one of the Top End's main growing areas.

Only 457 millimetres of rain was recorded, compared to an average of 1,025 millimetres in previous years.

Mr Dalglish said Katherine experienced several poor wet seasons even before 2020.

"When they [mango trees] are standing out in the sun and not getting any rain, it takes a toll on them," he said.

NT Farmers Association Chief Executive Paul Burke said the association is waiting on more data from farms on mangoes that didn't make it to market in the 2020 season, but expects the region's total crop loss to sit within $10 million.

Mr Burke said both the weather and a shortage of seasonal workers because of COVID-19 travel restrictions caused losses.

He said growers are used to changing weather conditions but a shortage of workers "exacerbated a really difficult season".

More than 300 seasonal workers from Vanuatu arrived in the Territory in October, after picking had already begun in some areas.

The workers were required to complete two weeks of quarantine before they could begin work — a ruling made before they were eventually allowed to quarantine on farms.

Tray numbers tumble

Katherine grower Francesco Agnello said he lost $20,000 or 25 per cent of his crop because of a shortage of workers to pick his 2,000 trees.

He said neighbouring farmers shared the picking to try to stem losses but the poor season still meant his family had to rely on income from savings to make up for the shortfall in profit.

"We lost a little bit but can't do much about it. We were all in the same boat," he said.

Mr Agnello said he finished picking mangoes on his farm just before his bore started to run dry.

"We were just on the edge … probably we could pump a little more water, but not that much more," he said.

Statistics show that after three consecutive years of producing more than 10 million mango trays, Australia's national crop forecast for the 2020 season was 7 million trays.

In 2019, the Northern Territory produced around 5.5 million trays but 2020 saw a significant decline in the number of Top End mangoes sent to market.

According to the NT Farmer's Association, Katherine sent 1.2 million trays to market by mid-December 2020, compared to 2.3 million trays in 2019.

Darwin produced 2.6 million trays last season, compared to more than 3 million trays in 2019.

One tray weighs around 7 kilograms.

Mr Burke said growers hope that more than 750 seasonal workers will be available to work on Top End farms during this year's mango season.

"Certainly, the season has been phenomenal to date … there is a spring in the step of growers, and we are looking like having a bumper season," he said.