Bitter blow for recovering strawberry farmers
AS IF the needle crisis wasn't enough, watching the last million of his strawberry plants get shredded by Mother Nature cemented this as Justin Agostinelli's toughest year.
The owner of A and A Juicy Berries in Beerwah was a victim of the vicious hailstorms which barrelled across the region earlier this week.
The latest blow was particularly hard, as Mr Agostinelli said they'd been making some good money on their berries in the past week as the industry recovered from the needle tampering saga.
He estimated they'd lost about 40 tonnes of strawberries just from the expected haul of the next 1-2 days, while the bigger picture revealed losses of about 20 tonnes of strawberries a day until the end of October.
"We had a million plants left in the ground, they're shredded," Mr Agostinelli said.
He said that translated to about a million dollars in turnover lost and it also signalled their last hopes for this season.
"We're done for now," he said.
"(If we planted now) we're looking at a good eight weeks before you see another strawberry."
By then the mercury will have risen too high to grow the sweet fruits.
"We will replant in March or early April next year," Mr Agostinelli said.
Unlike some farms which were able to protect crops from predators and the elements through netting, Mr Agostinelli said his produce was at the mercy of the weather.
"We're open to everything," he said.
Mr Agostinelli had worked his Burys Rd farm for the past 12 months, but had been involved in strawberry farming with his parents for the past 12 years.
"(This was the worst season) since I've been involved in strawberries," he said.
"It's just one thing after another. We're too far in to pull out though.
"I've never personally been through a storm like it. It was cyclonic."
He said the "pea-sized" hail had been "just like bullets flying over the top".
"The intensity of it was crazy," he said.
The wind tore down the roller doors to their packing shed "like a mini-tornado" and destroyed all their computer and security camera systems.
He said luckily they were insured for all of that, but their crop could not be insured.
Mr Agostinelli had been able to negotiate with another nearby farm to pack what fruit they had in their cold rooms, but once that was finished their season was over.
"I'm just looking forward to hooking the caravan up and disappearing for a while," he said with a laugh.