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Drought-affected farmers hit hard as freak hailstorm wipes out crops in NSW hinterland

Emma Siossian, Luisa Rubbo and Claudia Jambor, Thursday September 19, 2019 - 00:13 EST
ABC image
Hail the size of 50 cent pieces destroyed blueberry nets. - ABC

Farmers struggling to cope with the drought are desperate for rain, but in northern New South Wales they have instead been hit by a severe hailstorm, which has wiped out a number of crops.

The storm hit late Tuesday, and ripped through the small hinterland town of Comboyne, south-west of Port Macquarie, affecting a strip of farms in the area.

Ernst Tideman, who has a blueberry and avocado farm in the area, said his crops had been destroyed.

"There were hail stones the size of golf balls, or 50 cent pieces, they destroyed the avocados, the crop we had started harvesting, and the flowering for next year, and a lot of the branches have been severely damaged," he said.

"The damage is so severe, it will take us years to recover from this.

"In the blueberries, the netting has been destroyed, the cables holding it have been broken, so it all has to be replaced.

"Even now, 20 hours after it happened, there are still many places where the hail has not disappeared.

"You're helpless, you can't do anything, all your work for the whole year is gone in three quarters of an hour, less than that even."

'We were desperate for rain'

Mr Tideman's wife, Penny, said they had been feeling optimistic they would receive some much-needed rainfall.

"It's the biggest drought on recorded history in this area and we were absolutely desperate for rain. The forecast was rain … we certainly had no idea we would get a hailstorm like this," she said.

"I kept thinking it's going to stop, it's going to stop, and it just kept on coming and it was looking like a snowfield.

"I feel absolutely miserable, the damage is almost immeasurable and we feel devastated by it."

Mr Tideman said the economic impact would be severe.

"We will lose this year's crop and next year's crop and part of the year after that. We have five people working for us and we can't keep them employed," he said.

"We think 10 farmers have been severely hit, and others less severely. There's a strip of farmers that have been hit hard."

Rainfall a 'hindrance' for firies

The storm did bring some rainfall, but it has not been heavy enough to aid fire-fighting efforts underway in northern NSW.

Rural Fire Service spokesman, Inspector Ben Shepherd said the Bees Nest area fire, on the Dorrigo Plateau west of Coffs Harbour, received the most rain with up to 30 millimetres falling in some parts of the fireground, which is now more than 94,000ha.

He said while it enabled firefighters to develop containment strategies, it also delayed backburning plans.

"It's definitely not enough to extinguish the fire. In some aspects the rain has been a bit of a hindrance," he said.

Inspector Shepherd said warmer weather and increased winds were forecast in the coming days, which meant the firegrounds would not be damp for long.

"So that little bit of rainfall is really going to be stripped from the landscape fairly quickly," he said.


© ABC 2019

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