The 15 min­utes that dev­as­tated fruit in­dus­try

Farm­ers reel as they lose mil­lions

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - HENRIËTTE GELDEN­HUYS

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”.

PIC­TURES: THOMAS HOLDER

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.

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