Hailstorms hammer fruit crops

03:38, Dec 13 2012
Emilie Simpson
KNOCKED ABOUT: Emilie Simpson thins hail-damaged breeze apples in Richmond.

Pockets of Nelson pipfruit growers are reeling from some of the worst hailstorms in years, which are set to make a dent in this season's crop.

Mahana growers are the hardest hit, with some losing virtually all their fruit on some blocks to hail last Friday.

Other orchards closer to the coast also suffered significant damage, as did blocks across parts of the Waimea Plains which were hit last Thursday and Friday. Some growers on the plains have been hit by hail up to four times this season.

For those without insurance, the cost is likely to be crippling, as it comes on top of several difficult seasons where growers have either made losses or struggled to break even. Some have already begun laying off staff.

Among the worst affected is Thawley Orchard Company, a large and longstanding family business based at Mahana which own or leases six orchards and regularly processes 270,000 cartons of fruit through its packhouse.

An upset Jim Thawley was reluctant to comment, saying it was a "pretty touchy subject".


But he confirmed that hail had damaged almost all the fruit on the company's 130-hectare Nile Rd block, which was about half its total crop.

"What's been hit has been destroyed. There is nothing we can recover."

He was hopeful the company could get something for the fruit for juicing.

Mr Thawley said the company was not insured, as "we didn't think it was viable for us".

It was still assessing the implications for the business and staff, he said. "After the last few years we have had, it's not easy, but we have somehow got to work through it."

A neighbouring orchardist, Brian Fenwick, said about 65 per cent of the fruit on his 20ha block was damaged in a brief storm on Friday afternoon, which made picking the rest for export uneconomic. Instead, some would be sold locally and the rest processed for juice.

Although he was insured, it would not cover all his costs, he said.

"I've had hail before and things have gone wrong, but this has just gutted us. It's a bit of a kick up the bum."

He had laid off some of his thinning staff but had kept others to take fruit off young trees to stop them suffering damage.

Nick Fraser of Bronte Orchards said about 30 per cent of the fruit on its Bronte Rd block was dented by hail on Friday morning.

"You work all year on it, and to have it damaged in five minutes is pretty demoralising."

The company was not insured because it had other orchards around the district, and he hoped to reduce the impact by thinning out the damaged fruit.

Alan Dobbie of Wai-West Horticulture said its 40ha block in Lower Queen St, Richmond had been struck four times by hail this season, with damage averaging about 25 per cent. Other orchards on the plains had also copped multiple hits.

"Everybody has had a tickle-up.

"It affects your morale and makes thinning and harvesting harder, but you have just got to crawl your way through it.

"It was looking [like] such a beautiful year, and it's turned out to be a bit of a bugger. But that's farming - you never count them until they are in the box."

Fruition Horticulture consultant Greg Dryden, who has been busy inspecting damaged crops, said it was the worst year for hail since 2004, and it would have a noticeable impact on the size of the crop.

After several seasons without hail, many growers had cut out insurance as part of their economising because they could not afford the $1000 to $1400 a ha cost of cover, he said.

"Unfortunately, it will have caught some out big time, and it's devastating for those growers with big hits without insurance."

The Nelson Mail