Red Rich Fruits own 4,000 mango trees near Darwin River, a 45-minute drive south of the Darwin CBD. This site makes up just a small portion of the company's 20,000 trees across the greater Darwin region.
The farm manager is Dave Rutherford, but around these parts he’s known as the ‘Mango Wrangler’.
How? To understand that, you need to understand Dave.
“As a kid I had a dream to run a cattle station, so I went and bloody did it,” says Rutherford.
His determination led him to a management role at Buckleboo Station, a cattle station near Kimba, South Australia. Stints working with crocodiles and living in Vanuatu followed, before he eventually found his way to the Northern Territory. It’s this journey that’s earned him his unique nickname.
“Someone once said to me, oh you’re just like the Outback Wrangler, and I said, bullshit, I’m the Mango Wrangler!” laughs Rutherford.
The move into mangoes has been beneficial for his family, allowing his wife and four kids the opportunity to settle in a central location.
Of the 4,000 trees across the Darwin River site, 1,200 of them are the R2E2 variety and the remaining 2,800 are Kensington Pride.
In September, when produce plus spoke with Rutherford, the 2019 season was unlikely to match the previous years’ bumper crops.
“Last year we had lots of early fruit, and this year we aren’t seeing a great deal anywhere just yet,” says Rutherford.
“This season (2019) will be a late year because of an inconsistent wet season. The groundwater levels are the lowest they’ve been in 25 years.”
As a result, Rutherford thinks picking may last well into December.
“We had a couple of bad runs with fruit pests, such as caterpillars and mealy bugs, but overall the weather has been good for us in that sense.”
Mangoes grown at the Darwin River site are packed for Red Rich Fruits and sent to Sydney, New South Wales. From there, the fruit is likely to reach the shelves of supermarkets like Coles, Woolworths and Aldi.
The trees in the orchard are around 17-18 years old, many of which were managed in a way Rutherford disagrees with.
“The previous owners were cincturing the trees. We’ve stopped that because if you get it wrong you can kill the tree, and we’re all about farming for the future,” he says.
Another important factor in Red Rich Fruit’s farming for the future approach has been to reduce the amount of chemicals used, to avoid manipulating the trees.
Now in his second season as farm manager, Rutherford says it won’t be long before the trees recover and start behaving as they’re supposed to.
“It takes about four years for the trees to recover into full production,” he explains.
While his journey as the Northern Territory’s Mango Wrangler has only just begun, it’s one that appears destined to continue well into the future.
“I love the Northern Territory. It gets in your blood,” he says.
“You either love it or you hate it, and people that don’t love it don’t stay up here.”n
This interview is part of our spotlight on the Northern Territory and will feature in Produce Plus: Summer, Issue 35.