Devastating hailstorms cost Mary Valley farmer $500,000

THE passionfruit looks tiny in farmer Rob Price's hands - it's shrivelled, dented, and covered in dark bruises.

Peeling it amongst the vast rows of his ruined Mary Valley crop, he said this piece of unripened fruit was one of the few to survive last week's powerful hailstorms.

"I would estimate in this area alone we've lost nearly $50,000 dollars," he says.

"That's what it's going to cost us with the time it'll take to replace these vines."

Living in this area for 14 years, the conditions seen last week were the most extreme Mr Price has ever seen.

DEVASTATED: Rob Price of Imbil with his damaged avacado trees after golf ball size hail hit last week.
DEVASTATED: Rob Price of Imbil with his damaged avacado trees after golf ball size hail hit last week. Renee Albrecht

Driving through Imbil to reach the Price's passionfruit and avocado farm, it's clear these storms have been a blessing and a curse for locals - replenishing the desperately thirsty land but devastating the livelihoods of local growers.

Rob holds up a shredded passionfruit vine, skin peeling after being battered by hailstones the size of golf and tennis balls.

"This is where the problem stems from," he says.

"If the vines are damaged, they're unable to deliver the nutrients to the fruit."

After three consecutive days of powerful storms, Rob and his wife Cecily are just two of many now counting the costs and looking toward a shaky future.

In total, the Prices estimate it will cost them more than $500,000 to get back to where they were pre-storm.

When asked how the Prices would fare in the interim, Rob's voice lowered as he answered.

"We're looking at a number of options," he says.

"We had a visit from (Gympie MP) Tony Perrett and he's trying to help us to get a low-interest loan to see us through."

It'll take nearly a year to restore the passionfruit plants to a point where they will be able to yield sellable product again, but it's nothing compared to the destruction of the trees at the avocado plantation.

Bark has been torn off in sheets and the leaves have been peppered with holes, leaving branches susceptible to the hot summer sun - damage that will take nearly 18 months to recover from.

"There's nothing left; nearly 100% of the crops were destroyed," Rob adds.

Faced with little to no income for the foreseeable future, the storms have also left a number of pickers and employees on the farm without work, an especially hard decision with the Christmas holidays quickly approaching.

"There were definitely tears, they're now without a job at the end of the year," Rob says.

Despite the immeasurable setbacks Rod and Cecily have faced, they both remained stoic and matter-of-fact about the often harsh realities of farm life.

"Farmers are generally not the sort to say 'Gee, I've been hard done by, who's going to help me?'; we just get on with the job," he says.

"You can't change things like this. The weather is the weather and you know you're going to have disasters like this."

Gympie Times

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