New SA mango extends global harvesting window -

New SA mango extends global harvesting window

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New SA mango extends global harvesting window

The elusive quest for the perfect mango is a difficult one, but South African grower Richard Elphick believes he has come very close to hitting the jackpot. He spoke to about the long road to achieving the Princess mango, which is a late harvesting hybrid cultivar developed from the Haden and Keitt varieties.

Finding and developing the perfect mango takes hard graft, inspiration and a dash of good luck, as Elphick can testify.

It took 15 years to develop, test and patent the Princess mango, which farmers are commercially trialing as far afield as Australia, Peru and Puerto Rico with semi-commercial plantings in Egypt and Brazil.

Elphick's 185 hectare farm in North Eastern Lowveld borders the Kruger National Park and dates back to 1902, making it the oldest farm in the area.

He is a fourth generation farmer with a great great uncle who did military service with Lord Spencer, ancestor of the Princess of Wales, which undoubtedly explains his choice of name for the new mango.

His family have been growing mangoes on their Althrope Farm for 110 years. They used to have 165 hectares devoted to mangoes prior to Nelson Mandela's election as president. However, three quarters of the original 823 hectares of farmland was sold because of the Land Restitution Program in 1994 which required 30% of white farmers' land to be sold to the indigenous population.

Seeking spirit

Elphick's desire was to find a new cultivar which would extend the season but still taste and look good.

"In South Africa we grow predominantly Florida cultivars Tommy Atkins, Keitt, Kent and Sensation. We do have our own cultivars, Peach and Sabre, but they are full of fiber, although very good on taste," explains Elphick, who is 55.

"Tommy Atkins and Peach are the earliest so I was looking for a late cultivar that was going to be better than Keitt and Kent, not a great color, and Sensation which is a small mango."

It struck him it might be worth crossing a Haden mango - which is bright red and has a good flavor - with Keitt, so he cut back all his 4.8 hectare Haden orchard except one branch, and cross-bred the two.

His single branch of Haden produced 240 fruits so he planted all of the seeds knowing there was a very good chance of a cross. He waited to see what would happen.

"The seeds only started to bear fruit in the fifth season. We looked at the cultivars to see if they were promising or not. We got a cultivar which was a lot smaller, had a fantastic color and tasted like cardboard."

However, several seasons later his patience paid off and finally a beautiful looking fruit appeared.

"When I saw Princess for the first time I thought there was a small chance that we might have a winner. I told my father first. The kids, who were brought up eating mangoes, tasted it and said it was pretty good. We started testing it on friends and relatives and everyone liked it and then the enthusiasm grew."

Testing times

Elphick said it was at this point he realized it was time for the cultivar to be tested on a professional level. He took his new mango to Westfalia Technological services for scientific tests.

"As far as Princess was concerned they looked at it and straight away they were quite happy. When I asked about plant breeding rights they had to test it and make sure I hadn't stolen it from anyone else."

It took four to five years for Westfalia to check everything, register it on the world trade market as Princes (TFE 02) and arrange the patent for Elphick.

"One of the biggest advantages of this mango is it's a late cultivar, it has a great flavor, you can pre-ripen the fruit, it packs easily and travels well."

Elphick points out the fruit can be picked if it has reached 80% internal maturity

Harvest season

The Princess' big attraction is that it will extend the mango season for growers worldwide by between three to six weeks.

For example, in Australia the season starts in Darwin in October and finishes in New South Wales towards the end of January, but with the Princess growers will be able continue harvesting until well into March.

In South Africa Princess is harvested from the end of January until the end of April extending the country's season from between three to six weeks. By the end of 2012, South Africa will have more than 30 hectares of commercial Princess mango orchards.

"I would like other people to grow it. I think it's a wonderful cultivar. It has a unique taste all of it's own - it is 99% fibreless and has a smooth, sweet, creamy texture which is a cross between Keitt and Haden," enthuses Elphick.

He is growing the fruit commercially and exporting to the U.K. and Canada where the mango is well received.

Export lowdown

South Africa's mango exports are low at the moment at just 180,000 cartons last year, compared with 4.2 million five years ago.

"A lot of orchards have gone out of production and a lot of white farmers have left. We don't have the expertise any longer to grow them."

Another contributing factor is that the U.S. wholesale market is offering just US$1.99 a carton, which Elphick claims is too low to justify exporting.

He believes more global information about prices would help the country's exports and as a former chairman of the South African Mango Growers Association, he's pleased the trade body is still around, albeit in a smaller format.

"We can sell most of our fruit locally at good prices. There is also demand from Mozambique, Swaziland and Namibia - Mozambique most probably being the biggest out-of-hand sales buyer as they are close bye and they have a booming economy depsite what you might read in the papers."

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