Severe hailstorms and extreme heat leave parts of Italy’s fruit and vegetable production base battered and bruised

Intense storms and a period of sustained high temperatures have damaged fruit and vegetable production and left growers across Italy under extreme pressure.

This week, a large number of severe hail and windstorms reportedly caused “irreparable” damage to fruit and vegetable production across a large swathe of northern Italy, from Piedmont in the west, through Lombardy, to Veneto and Friuli in the east.

As many as 44 individual storms brought wind and hail hit the north of the country in a single day earlier this week, according to data posted by the European Severe Weather Database.

The timing of this series of weather events could not have been worse, according to national farmers’ union Coldiretti, coinciding as they did with crops reaching peak production in fields.

The group’s president, Ettore Prandini, called on the government to declare an official state of emergency, so that funds could be diverted to help agricultural regions devastated by the adverse conditions.

“The hailstones hit the fruit and cause it to fall,” said a spokesperson for Coldiretti. “This damages it and stops it growing, or leaves blemishes that make it unsuitable for marketing.”

The spokesperson added that hailstorms had become a “more and more frequent” event. “What also changes is the size of the stones, which appears to have increased considerably in recent years. These are real blocks of ice that are even larger than tennis balls.”

Heatwave to the south

Also of grave concern to Coldiretti members is an “unbearable” heatwave across central and southern Italy.

According to the group, there have been instances of fruit and vegetables “literally burning… in fields”, leading some companies to lose as much as 90 per cent of crops including peppers, melons, watermelons, grapes, tomatoes and aubergines.

“Heat burns irreversibly damage fruit and vegetables,” the organisation observed, “to the point where they are rendered unsellable. We try to bring harvests forward when possible, or we thin out the fruit on the trees, eliminating those that cannot survive and trying to save at least part of the production.”

The storms and heatwave are the latest in a series of adverse weather events – including drought and floods – to hit Italy over the past few months.