Kate and John Groves on their avocado farm near Gympie this time last year.
Kate and John Groves on their avocado farm near Gympie this time last year. Troy Jegers

Farmers defiant a year on from 'hailnado' devastation

THEY'VE been on their Mary's Creek farm for more than 45 years but "hailnado", which tore through many parts of the Gympie region exactly one year ago today, initially caused the most devastation of any of three major storms the Groves family has endured.

Farmers loose 3500 avocado trees in horror storm

"We weren't really sure what would happen because we'd never seen them devastated that bad," John Groves said of the avocado crop that was decimated last October.


Photo Renee Albrecht/Gympie Times
The shredded leaves of the once lush avocado trees litter the floor of the orchard after the devastating hail storm on October 11, 2018. Troy Jegers


Mary's Creek avocado farmer John Groves said his trees have bounced back remarkably after last year's devastating hail storm.
Mary's Creek avocado farmer John Groves said his trees have bounced back remarkably after last year's devastating hail storm. Donna Jones

"It would have cost us half a million dollars. Lost the crop which was $350k or better and I've had three men on pruning since last Christmas. They've just finished now," he said.

On Thursday, October 11, 2018 a massive supercell storm began at just after midday, with tennis-ball-sized hail falling at Kumbia near Kingaroy, tearing off roofs and even knocking birds from the trees.

As the weather bureau issued warning after warning, rain poured across Brisbane and the southeast and winds and dense hail did massive damage in a belt from Kingaroy to Gympie and on to Maryborough and south of Bundaberg.

At the Mary's Creek avocado farm, all the leaves and some of the bark was stripped from 3500 trees, completely wiping out the crop.

"We had to make the decision on whether we were not going to go with it or try and get them back," Lesley Groves said.

"We're not quitters and a challenge is always what you've got as a farmer and we thought 'no, see if we can do it'," she said.

"We got some good advice from a couple of DPI people and Peter Buchanan helped us out a lot," John said.

"After the storm they didn't have a leaf on them - the bark was taken off them. And I did contemplate pulling them all out at one stage. My daughter talked me out of it. She manages the avos for me. She talked me in to giving them a go," Mr Groves said.

A previous hail storm damaged a number of the trees and actually ended up causing more devastation in the long term.

"In 2013, we got hit with a hail storm, not as bad as this one, but we ended up with more damage with that one eventually because it turned 38-40 degrees for a week after.

"Because with the leaves taken off and the bark soft, they get sunburnt then. And when they sunburn, they start to die. I wasn't awake to it.

"This time, when it (the storm) took (the leaves) off, I said 'I'll go and see Peter Buchanan' because he's a pineapple farmer and they have to deal with sunburn all the time," Mr Groves said.

And how do you prevent 3500 nude avocado trees from getting sunburnt?

"You apply sunscreen, like you do on a person. You can paint them. Peter had this stuff, like a sunscreen - to protect his pineapples."

Rather than paint sunscreen on their trees, the Groves sprayed them, and also had to treat the vulnerable trees to prevent disease from setting in.

But last year's hail storm has not all been bad news.

"It's been a miraculous recovery from where (the trees) were. It was this time last year, it was just set, we had a good crop and then it (the storm) took them all off," Mr Groves said.

"(This year) it's the best flowering and setting we've had for a long time.

"It's like they've got the biggest shock of their lives and they've gone 'voom'," Mrs Groves said.

"John and I at our age, we wouldn't have attempted to do that (continue with the crop) without Kate. We wouldn't have bothered, only Kate talked us into it. We were up for the challenge but if we get another hail storm tomorrow, we won't be up for it. We can't afford it," she said.

The family is staying positive, even as we enter storm season.

"We've been here for 45 years and we've had three bad hail storms," Mr Groves said.

"That's not bad - one every 15 years."

"We don't worry about it. What it is, is what it is. We don't stress what you can't change," Mrs Groves said.