New South Wales, a region famed for its vibrant cherry production, has recently faced a devastating blow due to unexpected hailstorms on Saturday, December 2nd. This severe weather, characterised by heavy rains and strong winds, has particularly affected cherry orchards, leading to significant crop damage just before the crucial Christmas period.

The impact was especially felt in cherry-producing areas such as Gulgong, near Mudgee, and Young, often referred to as Australia's "cherry capital." Orchards in these regions, known for growing premium varieties like the Christmas-favourite ‘Stella’ cherry, saw their crops ravaged by the inclement weather. The sudden rainfall caused the cherries to absorb excessive water, resulting in widespread skin splitting and rendering the fruit unfit for sale.

Fiona Hall, general manager of Biteriot, a major cherry supplier, expressed the extent of the damage: "We’ve walked away from that crop; there was just too much damage. The rain fills the cherries with water, causing the skin to split and pop."

The loss is substantial, with hundreds of tonnes of cherries affected. This setback has not only financial implications for the growers but also disrupts the local communities that heavily rely on the cherry season for economic and cultural activities. "Everything was set for a perfect year – great pollination, great fruit set. Now, what was shaping up to be fantastic is looking very challenging," Hall added. Despite these challenges, cherry growers are calling for public support for the slightly blemished, yet still flavorful, fruit that remains.

In addition to cherries, the storms have adversely impacted wheat crops. A spokesperson from the Bureau of Meteorology highlighted the issue: "Heavy rain can cause significant damage to grain. Wheat must be harvested while dry, and the rain delays harvesting, raising concerns about fungal outbreaks or sprouting."

The effects were acutely felt in Berry, on the New South Wales South Coast, where residents like Jessica Cassidy experienced the storm's fury. "It was cyclonic," Cassidy described. "Our gutters were ripped off, and there was water everywhere. Trees were down everywhere, and the firefighters couldn't get close to a neighbour’s car on fire because of live power."

As New South Wales navigates the aftermath of these storms, the enduring resilience of its farming communities is evident. Faced with the immediate challenges of crop loss and infrastructure damage, the region looks towards recovery and adaptation, showcasing the strength and perseverance inherent in Australian agriculture.

Source: www.theguardian.com www.abc.net.au