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More than 90 per cent of Ballarat's potato crops damaged by extreme weather

Friday January 7, 2022 - 05:48 AEDT
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Potatoes that survive the damage will need to be treated for fungus and other diseases. - ABC

Up to 95 per cent of the potato crops in the Ballarat agricultural district have been damaged by storms this week, as the state braces for more wild weather. 

Some farmers in the region were reporting more than 200 millimetres of rain from the weather event, which began with severe thunderstorms on Wednesday afternoon. 

Ballarat Potato Growers Association chairman Chris Stephens said hail defoliated juvenile crops, which were already delayed due to the wet and cold summer. 

"The storm pretty much went from one end of the district to the other ? it's estimated that 90 to 95 per cent of the growers and crops were affected by the storm," he said. 

"The hail damage is just horrendous, some crops have just been completely stripped of all their foliage.

"The hail was marble-sized and it continued for over half an hour in some places." 

A spokesperson for McCain Foods, the region's largest potato processor, said it was too early to comment on the damage.

Mr Stephens said the growers worst affected could lose up to 70 per cent of their potato yield this season due to the storm damage, and in the best case scenario farmers would still be losing about 20 per cent of their crop. 

"It's pretty well going to be 12 months of work for nothing," he said. 

"A lot of the growers in the district also grow cereal crops and so forth, and some of those crops have been damaged anywhere from 30 to 80 per cent.

"It's a kick in the guts for the district." 

Mr Stephens estimated up to 2,000 hectares of potato land was damaged in the storms. 

"This district grows approximately 130,000 tonnes of processing and seed potatoes," he said.

Increasing costs of fertiliser and fuel meant many farmers were already spending more to maintain their land, Mr Stephens said. 

"It's already been a really tough year; we were going to be struggling to make any money as it was," he said. 

"It costs roughly $18,000 a hectare to grow a crop, with high fertiliser prices that are going to put another two or three thousand dollars on top.

"There is very little chance for some growers to break even this year." 

To try to recover produce from the damaged crops, Mr Stephens said growers would need to apply more fertiliser and anti-fungal treatments than during a typical season. 

"A lot of the fertiliser that was put in has been washed away, and they're not going to just have to re-apply what they lost," he said. 

"We're going to have to put extra on now because the crop is going to need it, just to try and recover.

"The costs are going to be massive."


© ABC 2022

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