The 15 minutes that devastated fruit industry
Farmers reel as they lose millions
THE HAIL fell for just 15 minutes, but left destruction in its wake that included 60 tons of plums ruined, along with 180 tons of nectarines and 100 tons of yellow peaches.
That’s according to Danie du Plessis, production manager at Ou Stasie farm, south of Ceres.
The farm is one of many in the area that lost millions of rands when thousands of hectares of fruit were damaged by hail that hit Ceres and surrounding areas during a storm that wreaked havoc across the province on Friday last week.
Du Plessis estimated that nearly half of all the fruit on the 140ha farm had been destroyed – and that it would take in the region of five years for the farm to recover.
“This is not a hail-prone area. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said.
Du Plessis described how the devastated workers had dug a hole in the ground, into which they threw the damaged nectarines.
“This week, among the workers, it was like somebody had died,” he said.
“They work the whole year to achieve a great harvest, so they were dismayed.”
Elizabeth Fortuin, a foreman on the farm, said: “It’s unbelievable. We make so much effort to ensure the right quality and size fruit is delivered. The one moment, everything was still there. The next moment, everything was gone. I felt very bad.”
While Ou Stasie farm was hit by a single 15-minute hail storm, Du Plessis said other farms experienced more.
Hennie Spalmer, the administration manager of Sterkwater farm in the Witzenberg valley, about 25km from Ceres, said the farm was hit by three hail storms between midday and 4pm last Friday.
“I grew up in Ceres and I’m 41 years old now, and I’ve never experienced something like that. Some of the hailstones were as big as doves’ eggs,” he said.
Eighty percent of its 260ha of apples and pears were destroyed, causing damage estimated at about R36 million.
It would take three years before the farm would break even again, Spalmer said.
Herman Snyman, a manager at Fairfield farm, 6km outside Ceres, said the farm’s 80ha of apples and pears were affected by the storm, but he was confident much of the fruit could be saved.
However, fruit destined for export would now go to the local market.
“In the Ceres area, a few thousand hectares were destroyed,” he said.
“There are big 300ha farms in the area.”
Ian von Buddenbrock, owner of Rhodene farm, 9km from Ceres, said very little of his 35ha of apples, peaches and pears had been left undamaged.
He spoke of two short “average” hail storms, and then a third “pretty bad” one, which lasted 10 to 15 minutes.
Although he couldn’t save any of his apples, he would save some of his peaches and pears for the local market, but not for export.
“It was disheartening to see the harvest being smashed to pieces,” Von Buddenbrock said.
Production costs would have to be slashed to help the farm “get through the bad patch”.
DISCARDED: Ou Stasie farm production manager Danie du Plessis next to nectarines that had to be thrown away after the hailstorm.
HIT BY HAIL: Over 100 tons of nectarines were damaged in the storm.