As the winds picked up speed on Saturday night, Mario Mifsud, a full-time Dingli farmer, secured his greenhouses as best he could and returned home after a day of work. 

His house is close enough to his fields that, in the middle of the night, he could hear plastic flapping off the structures as the worst storm in a generation swept across the islands. 

As soon as he woke, he went down to inspect the scene: “It was before dawn and the wind was strong enough to blow you over. When I saw everything that had been destroyed, I didn’t know what hit me,” he told the Times of Malta. 

Mr Mifsud, 60, who has worked the fields in Dingli his whole life and said he had never experienced such damage, was one of countless farmers across the island who saw months of work destroyed in the severe gale-force winds. 

The windows and roof of a large greenhouse, which he had replaced just two months ago at large expense, were ripped off, exposing rows of marrows to the elements. 

Nearby grow-tunnels housing peppers fared even worse: two were completely destroyed and the crops inside, which had been growing since last August, all lost. 

Other crops, including strawberries and newly-planted watermelon, were also struck. 

“Some of these crops take three months of work and constant expenses to grow,” Mr Mifsud said. “Then as soon as you begin harvesting, the weather comes along and you have nothing to show for it.” 

I know of one farmer who has had to uproot about €17,000 worth of potatoes

The full extent of the structural damage, and the time it will take to repair, has not yet been quantified but Mr Mifsud said the loss of income from his crops was a particular blow after a season of favourable weather – following a number of poor years – and good market prices. 

He said he was encouraged by the government’s announcement that it would seek to tap EU solidarity funds to help compensate farmers but expressed fears over the damage to the sector as a whole, already in steep decline due to rising expenses and foreign competition. “There’s not much of a future for small farmers,” Mr Mifsud said. “Farmers are losing heart. I am not going anywhere but younger people are not going to bother.”

Mr Mifsud surveys the destruction. Photo: Matthew MirabelliMr Mifsud surveys the destruction. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Malcolm Borg, from the Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi, said the scale of the damage was still becoming apparent days after the storm.  

“The number of farmers that have contacted us is stunning,” he said. “There has been huge damage to greenhouses but I know of one farmer who has had to uproot about €17,000 worth of potatoes.” 

Possible compensatory support, he said, would help the sector, but it was not yet clear whether the amount of damage would make it eligible for the EU solidarity fund. 

“Everyone is taking stock of the situation but the reality is that all they can do is clear the damage and start from scratch.”

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