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Australia: NT mango harvest short of worker

HARVEST season is about to start but finding enough workers to pick the Territory`s mangoes is difficult. This year growers will look to backpackers and southern contractors to provide the workforce.

Acacia Hills Farm will use backpackers to harvest fruit from its 22,000 trees. Owner Anne Arthur said they had organised workers who will pick from mid-October.

`We have on-farm accommodation and use backpackers for the whole season,` she said. `We think they make good workers.`

NT Mango Industry Association president Peter Marks said the southern drought may drive fruit pickers north. `Those contractors are looking to our mango season to help out,` he said.

Mr Marks said foreign workers should be allowed in on special visas to pick fruit. Growers are also looking to technology to cut the labour needs.

Bees Creek agricultural engineer Dallis Wilschefski has designed and built a hydraulic mobile mango-picking platform that he says can cut labour needs in half. `It can process 1500 trays a day,` Mr Wilschefski said. `A farm that needed 50 pickers can use 20.`

While the machines have been in use for the past 20 years, Mr Wilschefski`s platform needs no maintenance. `There are no chains or belt drives, nothing to adjust,` he said.

Workers pick the fruit and put them on the platform, which carries them to a stainless steel tub of mango wash which neutralises the acidic sap, preventing sap burn, which can otherwise ruin fruit.

This year, 2 million trays of mangoes are expected and 2500 workers will be needed for the month-long Territory harvest, which begins in October.

In 2002, more than $1 million worth of mangoes were left to rot because nobody would pick them.

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