Parts of the south-east of France will be declared a "natural disaster" area, allowing farmers and other property owners to access higher insurance benefits, French Minister for Agriculture Didier Guillaume said on a visit to farms hit by hail storms at the weekend.

Hail stones as big as golf balls have shredded maize fields, blown apart glasshouses and vehicles' windscreens, and destroyed fruit farms and vineyards in the mountainous Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.

Pictures released by local authorities even show corrugated roofs punctured by the impact.

A woman was killed by a falling tree as strong winds added to the hail storms.

"We must save what can be saved," said Minister Guillaume. "This is why we are setting up a task force with insurers, banks, farming organisations and State agencies to help farmers resume their business as soon as possible."