Growers count cost of rain, hail

Corrina RidgwayCountryman

The damage bills are being tallied from hail and heavy rain which decimated crops in the Esperance area and other parts of the State on October 20.

It followed an isolated hail storm on October 12 near Mt Ridley that affected over 800 hectares of crop.

The freak storm on October 20 travelled over 70km near Scaddan, 52km north of Esperance heading east, and finally petered out 120km north-east of Esperance in the Beaumont district.

The storm affected many growers in the region.

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Chris Reichstein, who farms 55km north-east of Esperance, estimated the storm front was 3-5km wide.

"I've never seen anything like it, it was unbelievable," he said.

Golf ball-sized hail hit the ground for 15 minutes, decimating 2200 hectares of Chris' 4000ha program, reducing wheat to a mat of flattened stalks and canola snow white with shattered pods.

Losses of 80-100 per cent were experienced over 870ha, with a further 1330ha of wheat, barley, canola and peas lightly to moderately affected.

Insurers assessed the losses on November 5 in what will be the largest hail insurance claim Chris has made.

"We have lost about 300 tonnes of canola out of one (400ha) paddock and probably 1000 tonnes of wheat over 470ha."

Affected canola swathes have since been picked up, resulting in a 50kg/ha return.

Although some hail damaged crops will still be harvested, Chris said much would just be slashed.

"The rest of the standing canola we will just go through with a slasher to chop it down and we'll do the same with the worst of the wheat," he said.

The storm cell also dumped heavy rain.

"We had about 18-20mm in the rain gauge but it was actually more because the gauge couldn't keep up," Chris said.

It was an added insult to injury - Chris received just 170mm in the growing season.

"The wheat was half decent, about 80 per cent of average, considering we've had our driest ever finish," he said.

Barley crops were extremely poor at just 60 per cent of average yield.

Matthew Hill, of Young Hill Farms, north-east of Esperance, believes 800-1000ha of crops in his 11,000ha program sustained considerable damage.

The assessor inspected the paddocks on November 4.

"We have 80-100 per cent loss to 400-500ha of canola," Matt said.

Another 400-500ha of cereals, legumes and canola had also been damaged to varying degrees.

"We had about 12.5mm of rain out of it and whatever the hail equated to," Matt said.

Further hail was received on an area of the farm on November 4 and storm fronts brought widespread rain to the region at the same time.

"We will probably still run a header over the crops - we have to do something with the paddocks," said Matt, who believes more damage may be found.

"We pick it up on the yield monitors, with a sudden drop in yield, and we will probably be leaving a few strips and get the assessor back in later," he said.

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