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Hailstorm hits Riverland, leaving growers to assess damage

By Catherine Heuzenroeder and staff, Tuesday November 5, 2019 - 16:21 EDT
ABC image
Hailstones blanket Bruce Hewett's property at Glossop. - ABC

Riverland growers are assessing the damage to crops after a sudden hailstorm cut through the region late last night.

A severe thunderstorm warning for damaging winds and large hailstones was issued around 5:00pm and most of the hail damage was inflicted around an hour later.

Properties hardest hit were in Barmera, Monash, Glossop, and parts of Renmark and crops damaged included grapes, stone fruit, nuts, and grain.

Three years ago, a devastating hailstorm hit properties from Taylorville to Yamba and had an estimated combined damage bill of $100 million.

Dave de Grancy invested in a pecan plantation 15 years ago and his crop was wiped out in four minutes last night.

"Our 2020 crop is going to be a zero," Mr de Grancy said.

"It was just a brutal hailstorm, very localised, a narrow band of hail went through."

There is little growers can do to protect their crops from hail damage and few have insurance due to the uncertainty and cost.

Stone fruit industry representative Tim Grieger has called on the Government to support the industry by making hail insurance more affordable.

"There is insurance out there but it is so cost-prohibitive and unworkable that no grower can get it," he said.

Hail comes on top of tough year

Glossop grower George Simos said the hail hit just minutes after he saw the storm approaching.

"I've lost here probably 80 per cent of my merlot [wine grape] crop, out of 200 tonne," Mr Simos said.

He said the hail damage meant he would not harvest this year but would need to continue to water and spray his vines to maintain them for future crops.

"This has never happened to me before, I'm a bit numb at the moment," he said.

Berri Barmera Mayor Peter Hunt compared the damage to the November 2016 storm.

"For me it looks like a path about a kilometre, two kilometres wide. There are affected areas but it hasn't affected ones right next door," Mr Hunt said.

"It only lasted a few minutes but that's what caused all the damage, the hailstones were ranging from marble size up to close on golf ball size."

He said the storm was the last thing growers needed while already coping with dry conditions and reduced water availability.

"As you would understand they are not feeling really good at all, and some have been devastated," Mr Hunt said.

Assessors in region as relief considered

Minister for Primary Industries Tim Whetstone said department staff would be in the region today to start assessing the damage.

"Just to know whether we are going to call on the Commonwealth for disaster relief or whether there's a lower level of help needed," Mr Whetstone said.

He said there were reports already of entire crop losses from stone fruit, grape, and nut properties, as well as scarring and damage in the fruit and vines.

"The damage is quite varied, just as it is in our dryland sector, the farmers out there are in the midst of harvest and we've seen some damage."

Mr Whetstone said the impact on individual growers would vary depending on whether it was their primary source of income or if they had off-farm work.

"We also need to understand the implications, the mental health of our farmers, who have been through the wringer, particularly with the price of water," he said.

Glossop grower Darren Kennedy said the ferocity of the hail was similar to the storm three years ago on his property.

But he said the sporadic nature of the storm meant the damage may not be as widespread across the region.

"By the end of the week we might work out who got hit and find it's a reasonably narrow strip … and this hopefully has not hit too many people," he said.


© ABC 2019

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