Motueka fruit growers asking for Govt help after entire crops wiped out in hailstorm

Source: 1News

Most of the kiwifruit crops at Evan Heywood's orchard are damaged and ruined.

He's among growers at the top of the South Island who are still counting the cost of a flash hailstorm that destroyed entire crops on Boxing Day.

Hail came down thick and fast just after Christmas, taking out entire crops across Motueka in just 30 minutes.

"That's quite a blow," Heywood, of Heywood Orchards, told 1 NEWS.

National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research principal forecaster Chris Brandolino yesterday said the "unusual" weather was produced by a strong low pressure, with cold air above.

"What made this storm unusual was the intensity of the wind. It was something I had never seen before," Heywood said.

Top of the South Rural Support Trust's Richard Kempthorne said kiwifruit and apples had been badly hit by the storm.

"You have some growers with both kiwifruit and apples who the total crop has been written off," he said.

"There's also been one or two hop gardens that have had very severe damage."

About two million trays, or 7200 tonnes, of kiwifruit were lost due to the storm.

Like many in the region, Heywood has had to thin out much of the dead fruit to save the plants, of which many shoots for next years fruit was damaged too.

The total cost of the Boxing Day hailstorm is unclear, however insurance company FMG said it had already had $18 million worth of claims come in, and it's expecting that number to rise.

The storm also came at the end of a difficult year for the horticulture industry which was badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now, those in the industry are asking the Government to step in so they don't have to lay off staff.

"I think what the growers are looking at trying to do is talk to the Government to see whether there's some government support that can be given to them to continue to employ the staff that they have," Kempthorne said.

However, a Government spokesperson told 1 NEWS some support, including emergency benefits and financial advice for growers, was already in place.