Pinata Farms research project combats under skin browning

Mangoes Nov. 7, 2018

Six years ago Pinata Farms, a Wamuran-based grower with a footprint across Australia, began a research project focused on under skin browning in Honey Gold mangoes. 

Under skin browning does not change a mango's taste but does give the skin an unpalatable bruised appearance. 

Pinata Farms managing director Gavin Scurr said under skin browning predominantly affected the company's mango crops in the Northern Territory.

"We've narrowed that down to the speed of the fruit development," he said. 

"From flowering to harvest in the NT is about 100 to 110 days, whereas the quickest it gets in Queensland is 140 days."

Research was conducted in collaboration with Queensland's agriculture department and Horticulture Innovation Australia.

It couldn't pinpoint any way to beat under skin browning during the growing stage, so it looked at packing and handling instead, Mr Scurr said. 

The conclusions Pinata Farms reached resulted in a fundamental shake-up of their operation, moving from day time to night time harvesting. 

"We are the only people harvesting at night," Mr Scurr said.

"But a few other businesses have looked at it, we weren't the first to trial night harvesting.

“A few others had dabbled in it from a double shifting perspective when you are behind in your harvest."

A key feature of their Northern Territory harvesting operation was slowly bringing fruit down to packing temperature, Mr Scurr said. 

"The quicker you bring the fruit down from ambient temperature to transport temperature exacerbates the problem.

"So instead we bring the temperature down slower, which is counter-intuitive to best practice where the quicker you bring it down the better. 

"If we can cool it down over 24 hours, instead of six or eight hours, it makes a significant difference to the amount of under skin browning we get. And it has a negligible impact on shelf life."

This approach had a second benefit in that it improved workers' health and safety by stopping them from picking during the hottest part of the day. 

Custom built harvest aids, which were gentler on the fruit, had also helped, Mr Scurr said. 

The Pinata Farms project was included in a recent agriculture department report looking at the benefits of research and development in the agricultural sector. 

The report found that for every $1 invested in the Pinata Farms project, there were $6 of measurable benefits. 

"Implementation of project findings has reduced fruit downgrade in the wholesale market and increased grower returns," the authors wrote.

"A reduction in [under-skin browning] has also saved pallet repacking costs and increased the efficiency of picking labour."

Although a huge amount of work had gone into the project, Mr Scurr said it was worth it to combat losses through under skin browning. 

"Under skin browning doesn't change the flavour. It's purely cosmetic, but people don't buy it because it looks horrible," he said. 

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