Sixty-five glasshouses were wrecked at the Black Mountain site of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation during Monday's hailstorm in Canberra.
"We have years of work that have been lost," according to CSIRO's chief operating officer, Judi Zielke.
Apart from the damage to 90 per cent of the glasshouses used for the institution's world-leading research, the cooling systems were damaged.
And without the ability to control the temperature in the glasshouses, experiments to improve the ability of crops to survive better in tougher climates have been nullified.
Fifteen glasshouses did survive the storm because they were older structures which used thicker glass from decades ago - the glass in the undamaged glasshouses was thick enough for a person to walk on so the hail just bounced off.
Elsewhere on the prestigious research site, the fire brigade was making shattered solar panels safe on the roof of one building.
The carparks at the site were a sea of broken glass. Some of the staff's vehicles had rows of small holes along the side windows as though golf balls had hit horizontally at great force.
Researchers at CSIRO were waiting to assess the damage to their work. One of the glasshouses contained orchids, for example, and it wasn't known if the flowers would survive.
Most of the work, though, was on crops like wheat, barely, cotton as well as on some not usually grown in Australia but in parts of Africa.
They were being tried in different controlled environments in the now smashed glasshouses to see how they fared in drought. The cutting-edge science was seen as essential to developing new forms as climate changes.
One researcher immediately recognised the danger to his work and rushed out to cover plants in the hope of preserving them.
But as the researchers were counting the cost of the storm they were also counting their luck that nobody was hurt.
"We are extremely fortunate that everyone is OK," said Judi Zielke.
There had been nobody in the glasshouses when the hail suddenly hit, sending sheets of glass flying.
Researcher Dr Ben Trevaskis said that the hail stones which hit the glasshouses where his and his colleagues' experiments were being conducted were "bigger than golf balls".
"We just watched from the office as holes started appearing."
"It's hard to understand the impact yet," he said. He was very relieved that neither he nor any colleagues were in the line of flying glass.
"We will have to rebuild a lot of infrastructure," he said.
A decision would be made on whether to simply replace the structures or whether to rebuild them anew with new designs.
On Monday evening, the glasshouses were cordoned off because they were still dangerous, with loose glass liable to fall.
A fuller assessment would be made later when it was safe.
Whether extra funds would be needed beyond the existing budget would depend on the insurance.