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Supercell hailstorm causes millions of dollars of damage to Sunshine Coast crops

Jennifer Nichols, Monday November 18, 2019 - 18:57 EDT
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Hail damages nets on Ryan Martin's lychee farm - ABC

Farmers on the Sunshine Coast are counting the cost of a supercell that rained hailstones, some as big as tennis balls, down on orchards and small crops yesterday afternoon.



In a week they were fearing the serious threat of bushfires, it was ice that caused millions of dollars worth of damage to lychees, avocados, macadamias, custard apples and pumpkins.

Bird netting over the Martin family's lychee orchard was today still bowed under the pressure of tonnes of melting hail.

"At 2:30 yesterday afternoon it hit and probably went for a good 20 minutes, just flat out," Ryan Martin said.

"There's a fair bit of fruit left on the trees, the majority's on the ground, but what is on the trees is damaged."



Third time unlucky

It was the third time in 15 months that Yanalla Farms' lychee, dragon fruit and custard apple farm has fallen victim to a violent hail storm in the Glass House Mountains.

"This was our biggest year," Mr Martin said.

"We were hoping to get around 20-25 tonnes worth of lychees, and obviously not now — I reckon we'll be lucky to be pushing five tonnes."

Dragon fruit plants were also smashed, along with the last of the Martins' patented Pinks Blush custard apple crop.

It could be a month before they know how much of the fruit still growing on the trees can be salvaged, but in the meantime the Martins will be tallying up the damage bill.



Costly storm

"It could be upwards of $100,000 and then you've got to add the infrastructure to that," Ryan's father, Bob Martin, said.

"I'm not too sure what that's going to cost to get repaired, so it could be $200,000.



"It's not something that you can insure, and if an insurance company was to accept it, premiums would probably be ridiculous."

Bob Martin said many drought- and fire-affected farmers were far worse off, and expressed his concern for a Central Queensland lychee farmer who lost all of his crop to a bushfire, and neighbouring Glass House Mountains farmers who had also suffered damage.

"We're not the only people who have had a loss out of this," he said.

A 'phenomenal, crazy' 15 minutes

Last night the Martins shared a beer with Daniel Jackson, whose macadamia and custard apple farm at the base of Crookneck mountain was hard hit.



Tonnes of young nuts were shredded from his 3,000 macadamia trees, which only fruit once a year.

"It was phenomenal," Mr Jackson said.

"I was coming across this morning to put a protective copper spray on to protect damaged trees and I can see half my sprinklers spraying wildy with smashed sprinkler heads from the hail.

"You know, it was tennis ball, cricket ball size for ten to fifteen minutes.

"I've never seen anything like it — it was just crazy."



He expressed his disappointment at the storm hitting ahead of what was shaping up to be his best crop since he and his wife took over the farm and estimated the damage at more than $150,000, excluding infrastructure.

"Looking at it there's still a little bit of nut in the trees but I'd say 50-60 per cent is on the ground," Mr Jackson said.

"It has been dry but we've irrigated this year, so we spent a fair bit of money with infrastructure and pumping to try and get his crop, and yeah, now it's on the ground."

Mr Jackson, who is also the President of the Australian Custard Apple Growers Association, estimated that the hail caused millions of dollars' worth of damage to tree crops in the region.



"What do you do? You can't control it," he said.

"Literally Friday lunchtime there was chance of a huge fire breaking out behind the mountain there on Beerwah.

"Two days later we're getting smashed by hail.

"We're in a better position than the poor guys up north or interstate that have lost their crops to fire — they've got to rebuild from scratch."

Chris Fullerton also lost thousands of immature nuts to the storm.

"The rain was good," he said.

"Just not the hail, I've never seen anything like it."


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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