IT TOOK only three minutes of super-fine hail to destroy 96 per cent of apple and pear crops in the Adelaide Hills.
The fast-moving storm wiped out the majority of fruit trees between Ashton and Kersbrook on October 30, smashing “fingernail sized” fruit, which has left growers extremely concerned about the upcoming season.
Lenswood apple grower Ian Plummer has 60 hectares of orchards and said it was the worst damage he had seen in his lifetime of growing apples at Plummers Border Valley Orchards.
“We aren’t going to have a full understanding of what the damage is until we get to harvest, because that’s when the marks will show more,” he said.
“Generally you get bigger hail and it bashed the fruit once or twice, and some fruit will be missed, but this year a lot has been hit and its severe.”
Some farmers have cleared their trees, while others have retained the damaged fruit to grow out until harvest.
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But another option, with the support of the state government, is juicing the damaged fruit.
The state government has granted Ashton Valley Fresh $500,000 towards a $1.6-million aseptic filling unit to process larger quantities earlier in the year for their growers.
Ashton Valley Fresh operations manager Joseph Ceravolo said in peak harvest time from March to June, wineries were unable to assist with apple fermentation as they were busy with vintage.
He said the new machinery, which is expected to be operational by March, would reduce the growers’ need to store apples, cutting unnecessary costs.
“When farmers bring their fruit in, we can pre-grade it and store the good fruit,” he said.
“Anything that was hard hit with the hail damage we can process and juice during the earlier months.”
Mr Plummer said the Ceravolo family’s quick reaction would be a benefit for the whole apple growing industry.
“It’s not going to fix the problem, but it’s going to help make it easier,” he said.
“It won’t just be beneficial this year, but it will be useful for future seasons.”