Severe hailstorms made their way across Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT on Monday, injuring people, causing damage to homes and businesses and destroying thousands of cars.
A state of catastrophe was declared in the ACT for insurance purposes as the city was one of those hardest hit by the storm with over 15,000 insurance claims lodged since Monday in the ACT and Queanbeyan.
Agricultural scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) facility at Black Mountain in Canberra had years of agricultural research destroyed as hail smashed through the panels of their greenhouses.
The storm damaged more than 90 percent of the CSIRO’s 65 glasshouses, devastating crops of wheat, barley, legumes and cotton.
Chief research scientist Dr Evans Lagudah was working on site when the hailstorm hit and described the damage caused as unlike anything he had seen before.
“To be honest it was scary, because it was a situation where we were just working in the glasshouse, everything was normal and then within microseconds you’ve just got these hailstones just dropping in from everywhere,” Mr Lagudah said.
Dr Lagudah said he expected that the damage done to the research will have significant long term affects.
“What we do here with our work is we develop a number of genetic stocks that has in-built resistance in the plants to try and reduce the use of pesticides,” Dr Lagudah said.
“We offer that information to breeders, breeders incorporate that information into varieties and those varieties are then passed onto farmers. So it’s a significant gain to the Australian economy, a significant gain to the environment.
“There is going to be an impact on milestones on projects that we work on with stakeholders – both within Australia and globally.”
Echoing Dr Lagudah’s account of the damage, CSIRO director of agriculture and food Michiel van Lookeren Campagne said the organisation would now be set back an entire growing season.
“We just can’t continue the work that is currently underway in the greenhouses,” Mr Campagne said.
“We’re all scientists, we’re passionate about our projects, and we’ll use all the creativity that we have, all the resources that we have to overcome this disaster.
“This is about work that directly impacts on farmers and the agriculture sector and a range of other areas around the country, so we’re most worried about the flow-on impact on those companies.”