Harvest blow from hailstorms

Daniel Mercer and Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

Farmers in the south-east of WA's Wheatbelt are counting the cost after a severe and unexpected thunderstorm devastated crops only days before harvest was to begin there.

WAFarmers estimated Saturday night's hailstorm, which swept down from Newdegate to Ravensthorpe near the coast, caused damage estimated at $20 million to $30 million.

Some farmers lost up to 70 per cent of their crops.

The event comes as a blow to farmers as what is expected to be a bumper harvest gets under way, though it is understood most of those affected will have insurance for storm damage.

After a record haul of 15.1 million tonnes last summer, this year's harvest is tipped to come in only slightly under that figure and generate billions of dollars for the agricultural sector.

Newdegate farmer Bob Iffla said the hailstorm was one of the worst he had seen and ruined about 1200ha - or 10 per cent - of his crop.

Up-front losses would be about $850,000, he said.

Mr Iffla said the storm flattened crops, tore roofs from outbuildings, stripped trees and even left birds with broken wings scattered around his paddocks.

"It's been a huge thunderstorm, " Mr Iffla said.

"It's been something that I don't think the State has had too often before as bad as this."

Fellow Newdegate farmer Bryce Sinclair said he had lost about 20 per cent of his crop.

Hail flattened entire paddocks of his wheat, barley and canola.

The 29-year-old said though his crops were mostly covered by insurance, the damage would set him back next year.

It would be harder to replant affected paddocks and recover valuable seed.

"It's an issue for next year, but it's bloody annoying for us this year, " Mr Sinclair said.

"We got a fairly good fizzling, that's for sure."

Hyden farmer Mitch Mouritz said a number of barley paddocks on his south-east property had been wiped out by hailstones the size of thumbnails.

Mr Mouritz estimated 1500ha of barley and 600ha of wheat had been affected, on average between 60 and 70 per cent of crops on the property.

"In some paddocks there is between 90 and 100 per cent damage, and on our farm next door, there is probably only 10 per cent, so it was a narrow strip that went through," he said.

The storm, which brought strong winds and between 10mm and 25mm of rain, took place on Saturday evening.

Mr Mouritz had planned to start harvesting this week on the property, but said the storm had pushed it back 10 days.

He said he had spoken with insurance assessors.

Bureau of Meteorology media and communications manger Neil Bennett said thunderstorms had formed east of a trough of low pressure through the Central Wheatbelt, extending to the Great Southern, adding the bureau had issued a severe thunderstorm alert for the region.

_"To be classified severe in nature, a thunderstorm must satisfy several criteria, these being wind gusts in excess of 90km/h, hail of 2cm or greater in diameter and rain heavy enough to cause flash flooding," he said. _

He said storms similar to that experienced in the Lakes District over the weekend were not unusual for this time of year.

He said imagery from the Japanese weather satellite Himawari 8, released to the public at the end of last month, were now providing full-colour and high-resolution State-based images every 10 minutes.

Previous satellite imagery updated only every 30 minutes.

WAFarmers senior vice-president Tony York said it was not uncommon for areas of the Wheatbelt to be hit by damaging thunderstorms at this time of year.

But he said farmers were still on track to record a harvest of between 13.5 million and 14 million tonnes - underpinned by strong prices - after a good growing season.

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