More than 12 months’ production and the livelihoods of some producers across South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales has been lost after a freak storm and a ‘mini tornado’ struck on Friday night.
Huge hail stones and winds up to 100 kilometres per hour ravaged the region, damaging fruit, flooding crops and ripping leaves and bark from orchards. Berri farmer John Koutouzis was out at his farm when the storm cell hit and had to take shelter.
He described the hail hitting the shed as sounding like machine gun fire. “All of a sudden we just got hit by wind and a bit of rain which turned in to a freak, almost like a tornado,” he said.
“It was terrible, we were out at the farm and we had to run under the cover of the sheds just to protect ourselves from the huge hailstorms. “We have 80 acres [32 hectares] of vineyards, a mix of table and wine grapes.
“It’s totally wiped out. 100 per cent, All bunches are on the ground. [It’s] unbelievable, nothing can be used.
“It’s like a machine harvester has gone through it and just shaken everything off.”
‘Lucky’ to only lose half of crop
Mildura table grape grower Vince Cirillo said he was one of the ‘lucky ones’, only losing around half his crop.
Mr Cirillo called for financial assistance from local, state and federal governments to help growers who have lost their livelihoods.
He said the damage could have flow on effects to the rest of the industry, with reduced supply likely at harvest time.
“We’ve had probably about 50 to 60 [per cent crop loss],” he said. “It’s got this year’s damage for the fruit that’s already on the vines and it’s damaged the canes for the following year.
“You’ve got to nurture the vines for another 12 months with no financial reward at the end of it. It becomes very depressing.
Mr Cirillo said the damage would affect the wider community with less produce to pick and pack and a large drop in the agriculture industry’s income.
“The whole community is affected, there’s less work that would have been done, projects get delayed or cancelled,” he said. “You’ve got to rejig the whole 12-18 months just to see how you’ll go forward.
‘No time to play politics’: Senator
Assistant Agriculture Minister Anne Ruston toured South Australia’s Riverland after the storm. She said it was politician’s responsibility to work together to help those impacted by the storm.
“This isn’t about politics. This is about making sure we collectively do whatever we can to help these guys through a tight spot.
“Whether that be coming up with grants. The best way we’ve got to be able to deliver an outcome for these guys is working together.”