Storm decimates research glasshouses

Storm decimates CSIRO grain research glasshouses

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CSIRO glasshouses in Canberra were decimated by enormous hail stones during a freak storm last week.

CSIRO glasshouses in Canberra were decimated by enormous hail stones during a freak storm last week.

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The impact of the freak hail storm that destroyed valuable experiments in CSIRO glasshouses in Canberra will be felt for years to come.

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THE GRAINS industry has been warned it will be some time before the full extent of the damage done by last week's freak hailstorm at CSIRO's Black Mountain research facility in the Australian Capital Territory can be assessed.

CSIRO chief operating officer Judi Zielke confirmed over 60 glasshouses were damaged when the storm supercell hit, sending down hail stones larger than golf balls.

It is likely to mean many important grain research projects, into issues such as fungal disease management, will be pushed back by at least a year.

"We don't yet know the full extent of the damage," said Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) chairman John Woods.

Mr Woods, whose organisation works in closely with CSIRO on a number of research project, said the storm would impact right across the Australians grains research and development space.

"It won't just be CSIRO that sees fallout from this storm but all its research partners," he said.

The Black Mountain site was impacted by a similar event in 2006, meaning there were precautionary processes in place that may mitigate the extent of the damage, however CSIRO officials said there was not yet a clear picture as to how much work was lost as much of the site was still unsafe to access.

Golf ball sized hail smashed into CSIRO's research facility at Black Mountain in Canberra last week.

Golf ball sized hail smashed into CSIRO's research facility at Black Mountain in Canberra last week.

Ms Zielke said the major relief was that no one was hurt in what was a potentially dangerous situation.

"The best thing about it is that no one was hurt, but years of research have been impacted," she said.

Andrew Weidemann, Grain Producers Australia (GPA) chairman, said the storm highlighted how the research sector was exposed to freak climatic events the same as the broader agriculture sector.

"It is a pity we are now going to see delays in the critical research CSIRO and its partners are doing, but they are vulnerable to this sort of event the same as everyone."

Mr Weidemann said grains industry research and development (R&D) was a laborious process so the impact of this storm may not be felt directly by growers for years.

"What is happening in the laboratories now often doesn't filter out into the paddock for many years afterwards."

CSIRO director of agriculture and food Michiel van Lookeren Campagne said the Black Mountain site did work on crops such as cotton, barley and wheat.

"This will most likely mean a year's work that we are losing, perhaps even more in some experiments, in other cases we may be able to salvage something," Dr van Lookeren Campagne said.

He said the impact would be most severe for those on shorter time frames, such as students or those doing work for external partners.

"For the young scientists doing their PhDs or those with deadlines for customers it will be really difficult."

He said CSIRO was using the 2006 incident to formulate the recovery plan.

"We are using the 2006 playbook, there was more damage this time but the goal is the same to save as much as science as we can."

He said in 2006 there were 2500 panes of glass destroyed, the figure from last week's storm is likely to be doubled once final assessments are done.

Melania Figueroa, group leader of CSIRO's agriculture and food division, said the hail storm would impact researchers across the globe, especially in research to combat disease and pest problems in legumes and cereals.

"We are involved in a global research network with partners in Africa and North America, so I imagine some of the damage here will impact sending material away to our international colleagues.

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