Severe hail storm takes bite out of Batlow apple crop

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 14th November 2011

One of Australia’s main apple-growing districts, Batlow in southern New South Wales, has been declared a natural disaster area after a hail storm inflicted severe damage on apple orchards last week, destroying an estimated 60 per cent of next year’s Batlow crop.

Batlow is located at the base of the Riverina Highlands, 450kms south-west of Sydney. Apples are a major crop in the State of NSW, with most grown in Batlow. They are grown from spring blossom and harvested from late summer through to late autumn (February – May) and an important source of the apples reaching the main markets in Sydney and Melbourne.

The peak industry body representing apple and pear growers in Australia, Apple and Pear Australia Limited (APAL) has said it is hard to tell whether the damage will impact apple prices.  APAL’s managing director, Jon Durham, said the area of damage is at least 60 per cent of the Batlow orchards. However, Victorian apple-growing districts (such as Goulburn Valley, the Harcourt, Gippsland, Yarra Valley and Stanley–Beechworth) could fill this gap.

“The [Batlow] storm had a seven kilometre front. It is hard to assess whether this will have an impact on apple prices next year – if growers elsewhere have a very good season then prices could go down still,” Mr Durham said.

He added that the storm impact comes at a time when growers are facing financial demands to upgrade orchards so they can compete with imported apples, from New Zealand and China.

APAL is advocating to the government a package of measures that are designed to assist the industry make adjustments to this new environment where imported apples are part of the market mix.  Mr Durham said a key element of this package is to secure each year’s crop using environmental covers in all regions to protect against hail damage.

Batlow orchardist and APAL Board Director, Greg Mouat, said he has spoken to many growers who told him it was the worst storm they have experienced at this time of the year. He said the extent to which damage to trees has killed the buds for the 2013 crop is being assessed and that the knock-on effects of this storm will be severe and long lasting.

General Manager at Batlow Fruit Co-operative Limited, John Power told Australian Food News, “It has been pretty difficult for the local growers here over the past few days. We are still in the early days of quantifying the full extent of the damage.”

Above average tropical cyclone season outlook for the coming season

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology has meanwhile forecast an above average number of tropical cyclones for all four regions across northern Australia during the coming season.

Bureau of Meteorology Climate Prediction Manager, Dr Andrew Watkins, said climate models were trending toward another La Niña. He said, “While this La Niña may be weaker than the last, this doesn’t mean we can expect fewer tropical cyclones than the previous season. In other words, we can’t afford to be complacent.

Bureau of Meteorology climatologist, Joel Lisonbee said, “Generally we divide Australia into four regions with the average number of tropical cyclones in the eastern region (Queensland) being four, northern region (Northern Territory) being three, and western region (Western Australia) being seven. The north western sub-region, which includes Western Australia and the Northern Territory, is highly active and with an average of five tropical cyclones.”