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A five-minute hailstorm Friday heavily damaged the fruit and vegetables crops in parts of Niagara and Orleans counties.

Hardest hit were the Newfane, Somerset and Ridge Road (Route 104) areas. Crops affected included apples, peaches, pears, cherries, squash, tomatoes, pumpkins and beans.

James L. McNeil, manager of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency, the unit that administers farm programs, said he had not calculated the losses yet, but they could reach $1 million.

McNeil is preparing a report for the Farm Service Agency's state and federal offices, initial steps in requesting emergency federal aid.

"I had a fine apple crop growing," said James Bittner of Route 18, president of the Niagara County Farm Bureau. "About a third of the 200 acres of apples were damaged. I estimate that the five-minute storm cost our farm $100,000. Besides the cash loss, growers have lost the time and investments in sprays and other equipment."

"At best, the pock-marked apples may be sold for juice, a salvage use with far less value than fresh market sale, for which they were destined," Bittner said.

Several of Bittner's Route 18 neighbors had greater losses, possibly as much as 100 percent.

The hail also hit field crops in Niagara County but with little lasting damage. Corn, for instance, has enough protective layers to avoid damage from such a storm.

Erie County vegetable growers have not reported damage even though some hail fell in Hamburg and Orchard Park.

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