Growers of exotic crops like persimmons, mangoes and lychee could benefit from the technique known as 'bagging', a Sunshine Coast retail farm supplier has said.
Tony Firth of Palmwoods Farm and Garden Supplies said 'bagging', the covering of individual fruit with specially-designed paper bags, was growing in popularity for a range of exotic Queensland tree crops. Mr Firth said the technique, though time-consuming, improved fruit quality and helped prevent damage by birds, insects, diseases, limb rub and a range of other problems.
"Because of the increased protection against insects provided by the bags, growers can dramatically reduce the number of sprays necessary to produce a crop," he said. "There is also the added advantage of preventing direct contact between the chemical and the fruit."
A group of Atherton/Tableland mango growers has ordered 250,000 bags for the coming season following successful testing by the local Department of Primary Industries (DPI) last season.
And Mr Firth said he had had interest from growers of persimmons, Fuji-fruit and lychee in Queensland, carambola at Coffs Harbour, tropical fruits in New Guinea and grapes on Norfolk Island.
He said the initial inquiry about the bags, imported from Japan, had come from the Sunshine Coast persimmon growers.
"When we were approached by persimmon growers, their insect pest and bird problem was so large it meant either using the bags or not having a crop," he said.
"They were bagging every piece of fruit they could reach, even though you usually only bag selected fruit. "The growers I've spoken to reckon the fruit that came out of a bag was absolutely perfect, and they've had no worries getting the top price for it.
"There has also been interest from grape growers as a potential to stop fungal diseases late in the maturation period."
Mr Firth said the bags were normally used on selected fruit or varieties, for example ones being grown for export or to get a premium price. He said the bags were made of a special quality weather-proof paper, and had drain holes in the bottom to release excess moisture, rainwater or chemical runoff.
"The structure of the paper breathes, so there are no problems with fungal diseases," he said. "They are surprisingly strong, and growers have told me when they'd taken them off after a whole growing season in the sun, they would still have been strong enough to use again next year.
"But they are so cost efficient, at $55 per thousand, that it's hardly worth it. The bags come in a variety of sizes to suit nearly any tree fruit."
Fruit bagging likely to grow in popularity
Bagging individual apple fruit to minimise the possibility of pest and disease attack and to improve quality is a technique which has been used in Japan for many years.
The story on Japanese apple production in the March issue of Good Fruit & Vegetables illustrated bagged fruit on a typically small orchard where most of the work is done by family labour. Costs of bagging and then de-bagging fruit are relatively easy to absorb when the average orchard size is only 1 hectare and when premium prices are paid for perfect, unmarked fruit.
The technique of fruit bagging has become more likely in Australia with the introduction of relatively inexpensive, durable and easy-to-use paper bags from Japan by Palmwoods Farm and Garden Suppliers in Queensland.
Another promising use for fruit bagging is developing in the mango industry on the Atherton Tablelands. This year Joe Massaso of Walkamin is one of the growers trying the technique using Japanese bags from Palmwoods.
He said he believed harvesting of bagged fruit of late cultivars, such as Keitt, could be delayed until May then prices could be as much as $2-3 per fruit. Bagging should also allow the mango season to extend from October until May.
Mr Massaso said he believed it should be possible to cover 100 pieces of fruit per hour (or 1000 per day) with the Japanese bags which have a wire tie built in for quick sealing. The bags are supplied in tear-off packs for easy use.
This should be an economical technique, since spraying against pests and disease would be virtually eliminated.
Apart from protecting bagged fruit from attack, there are advantages in the adjacent unbagged fruit that no longer develop rub marks, which downgrade quality.
Bags certainly seem to stand up to the weather conditions without degrading and breaking down.
Bags are available in a range of sizes as follows:
175mm x 245mm
190mm x 265mm
203mm x 290mm
217mm x 325mm
Prices are about $40 per 1000 ex-Palmwoods.
Mr Firth said he believed the technique might be used for other fruit crops, including citrus, and it would be interesting to see bagging used on temperate crops such as apples, pears and nashi. More information is available from Palmwoods Farm and Garden Supplies, Palmwoods. Sunshine Coast Sub Tropical Fruit Association Newsletter, May 1993.
DATE: November 1993, January 1994
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