More hail pummels crops

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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Farmers in the eastern Wheatbelt were dealt a blow at the weekend when hailstones as large as golf balls pummelled their crops, just as harvest was starting.

Many were expecting their best yields in many years after generous winter rainfall ended a multi-year dry spell, but now will be filling out insurance forms instead of reaping bumper harvests.

Southern Cross farmer Wayne Della Bosca, who is also deputy Shire president for Yilgarn, said early reports indicated the northern side of the Great Eastern Highway was worst affected, with areas around Bodallin to Koolyanobbing bearing the brunt.

"For us at Southern Cross, the hailstorm didn't last that long, and the hailstones were quite intermittent. But they were large - the size of golf balls," he said.

"Wherever a hailstone hit a stem of wheat, it knocked it to the ground."

Mr Della Bosca said he knew of other farmers who had lost between 40 and 100 per cent of their crops.

He said farmers had been feeling more confident after generous rains in late July set them up well for promising yields, so the weekend's hail had dealt a large blow.

"Most farmers would be insured for hail, but it's a matter of how the assessment goes and whether they get the value back there," he said.

Dane Farina, who farms 40km east of Mukinbudin, said hailstones the size of large marbles pummelled his property for about 30 minutes, just before 7pm on Sunday.

He said the front lawn near his home was blanketed by the hailstones. The hailstorm smashed to the ground about 80 per cent of a 340ha canola crop yet to be harvested by Mr Farina.

Although not yet formally assessed, Mr Farina's 3500ha wheat crop also has some damage.

"I will still harvest my crops but expect the potential to be significantly down," he said.

"We had started harvesting our earlier sown canola and were yielding one tonne a hectare. But a lot of the remaining crop was flattened and what is left standing has had the grain smashed out of the pods."

Although still to be assessed, Mr Farina expects about 80 per cent of his total wheat crop would have sustained some damage.

"The saving grace with both the canola and wheat is that they were still quite green, which means they are less brittle than fully ripened crops," he said.

Mr Farina said before the hailstorms, he was on track for his most promising crop in his eight years of farming, after generous rains in the early and middle part of the season.

"Some of my neighbours had it a lot worse. They had golf-ball sized hailstones and had entire crops flattened," Mr Farina said.

Steve and Joan Smith, who farm 35km north of Westonia, estimate they had hailstones smaller than a marble, lasting about six minutes just before 8pm on Sunday.

Mrs Smith said this damaged about 600ha of their wheat crop, which was on track to yield 1.5 tonnes a hectare - one of their best crops in many years.

"It's difficult to know what the full impact is, but the loss would be well over half, maybe up to 80 per cent of this crop," she said.

"We are just grateful this area represents a small part of our overall cropping program."

Mrs Smith said the crop was not smashed to the ground, rather, heads were knocked off stems.

Mr Della Bosca said a further blow was the unwelcome rainfall that also arrived at the weekend.

"Rain at this time of year, if crops are already ripe, is a problem, especially if it stays humid and does not dry out. This affects the grain quality and can reduce protein," he said.

The weekend's hail in the eastern Wheatbelt came just a week after hail devastated crops in the south east of the Wheatbelt, from Newdegate to Ravensthorpe.

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