Freak hailstorm rips through Riverland, causing significant crop damage, South Australia


A destructive hailstorm with wind gusts up to 70 km/h (43 mph) ripped through South Australia's Riverland region at around 18:00 UTC on November 4, 2019, causing major damage to fruit and cereal crops that left farmers in crippling financial situation. The horrific incident prompted calls for a government-backed netting scheme to protect vulnerable crops​.

"It would be hundreds of millions of dollars of damage," a local farmer named Neville told ABC Radio Adelaide on Tuesday, November 5. Neville added that a 10 km (6 miles) wide area of his family's farm was severely damaged.

The storm swept through the towns of Murray Bridge, Swan Reach, and Wynarka. Other affected areas were in Barmera, Monash and surround, where farmers grow crops such as stone fruit, nuts, and grains.

The Bureau of Meteorology issued hailstone and wind alerts an hour prior to the storm's landfall.

In some areas of South Australia, farmers were grateful for the recent rainfall including on the Yorke Peninsula.  "200 mm (8 inches) of rain for the year since mid-April. Blessed to be harvesting the results we are," Matthew McDonald, a farmer in Port Broughton, posted on social media.

However, it is a different story for hailstorm-stricken farmers like the Southern Sky Pecans, a family-owned orchard in Riverland, who expressed their devastation on social media.

"I have no words," they wrote. "Looks like we better cancel to 2020 harvest party. From drought to this and near-total crop destruction in 1 day."

Mayo MP Rebekha Sharkie said she supports a dollar-for-dollar scheme for netting orchards in the electorate. "Science tells us severe storms are going to become the norm."

"After multiple seasons of devastation, many growers in my community do not possess the funds necessary to make the capital investment in netting as future insurance to protect their crops," she continued.

"While netting is not an option for all crops, this infrastructure can be extremely useful in some fruit industries."

Sharkie said netting costs about 60 000 dollars per 1 ha (2.5 acres) and a scheme capped at around 300 000 per farmer would be a hand up, rather than a hand out.

"It would provide long-term certainty and sustainability for our grower community, especially as the impacts of climate change worsen. I think most people want their kids and their grandkids to be able to eat Australian fruit into the future. We need to make sure that we can support our growers."

Staff from Primary Industries and Regions South Australia will travel to the affected area on Tuesday, November 5, to examine the damage.

The region was hit by a similar storm in 2016, where the damage was worth 100 million dollars.

Featured image credit: Southern Sky Pecans

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