Devastation from ex-cyclone Gita has left Taranaki farmers at their wits end while Fonterra has been the saving grace for Golden Bay farmers coping in the aftermath.
In Canterbury the storm wreaked havoc but farmers are praising the early warnings they feel prevented more destruction.
States of emergency were called last week as the storm lashed central and southern New Zealand.
State Highway 60 over the Takaka Hill was closed by numerous slips leaving rural communities stranded.
Despite being cut off from the rest of the South Island with flooded farmland and power outages, farmers were coping not too badly in Golden Bay, Federated Farmers provincial president Wayne Langford said.
“Some farms were harder hit, more in the upper catchments with random downpours and on the lowland where rivers and streams broke out.
“The biggest concern was the loss of power that did cause stress trying to get cows milked.”
With a bridge blow-out there were some delays in tankers getting to farms but new access was forged.
“That’s the good news story – Fonterra engaged its back-up plan, which seemed to work very well and while some collections were missed farmers had storage capacity until collection was possible and with the tremendous effort from Fonterra no milk was dumped.
“We can’t praise Fonterra enough really.”
Langford said farm repairs would be ongoing but with the wet summer, feed levels were quite high.
“Thankfully we are not trying to get feed over the Takaka Hill.”
A Fonterra spokesman said the company collected from 40 farms in the Takaka area and all but two had been collected in the initial 24 hours of the storm.
The Takaka plant kept running but that meant Fonterra had to get tankers in and out by sea each day to get the product.
“We arranged a barge to do this and that is doing continuous round trips. We are using contract tankers because we need to keep our tankers for farm collections.”
Two tankers were carting out 50,000 litres of cream a day and once barged to Nelson the cream was trucked to Clandeboye in South Canterbury where it was made into butter.
To make full use of the barge Fonterra also co-ordinated the delivery of food, fuel and essential supplies into Takaka.
“We are not sure how long we will be doing this but we will keep it going as long as there is a need,” Fonterra said.
Ex-cyclone Gita had tipped the balance for many Taranaki farmers.
“On top of a shit spring, dry into summer and now high winds and carnage no-one here is very excited about being a farmer at the moment,” Feds provincial president Donald McIntrye said.
Power outages had been the biggest challenge.
“Power to the milking shed is the urgent priority. We can live without power at the house but the cows start stressing if they are not milked for 24 hours.
“Sheds had their roofs lifted off, there’s been real disruption to the dairy industry.”
Damage to maize crops was widespread across the region with some totally flattened.
McIntrye said the worst-hit farmers on the coastal strip would be making some hard decisions.
“Given the difficult season it’s been with feed and cow condition, farmers will be looking to the banks to give them support through these tough times.”
In Mid Canterbury the worst damage was slips and flooding with hill country areas getting up to 190mm of rain while the lower plains had from 100-150mm.
There was a good run on harvest so that was up to date, Feds provincial president Michael Salvesen said.
“We always need rain in Canterbury. We have probably had slightly more than we need just now.
“But irrigators can be turned off, aquifers will recharge, new plantings will grow and pastures will bolt – It will do good.
“Whenever we have soil saturation at the end of February we know we are going to have a good autumn,” South Canterbury Feds president Mark Adams said.
He was grateful for the accuracy of the storm forecasting.
“Weather forecasters gave us plenty of notice to plan for livestock, especially shorn sheep, so we are grateful for that accuracy.
“We didn’t get what we were expecting but in this case an anti-climax is a good result,” Adams said.
On the West Coast there was a lot of cold rain and while there were some delays in milk collection, it was minimal.
“We had a lot of trees down – a lot of firewood for winter, some sheds down but just damn nuisance damage really,” West Coast dairy chairwoman Renee Rooney said.
“The real positive side is we were alerted and everyone was well prepared.”
There is mud on the Paterson family’s Southland farm again, prompting Laurie Paterson to ask whimsically if the drought was over?
The effects of Cyclone Gita delivered 54mm of rain to the Paterson’s farm this week with reports of up to 100mm elsewhere in Southland and Otago and even 50cm of snow to Central Otago ski fields.
This deluge means the drought declared areas of Southland, Queenstown Lakes, Central Otago and Clutha have had between 100mm and 300mm of rain in February compared to less than 50mm for most areas in December and January. It has provide a timely autumn flush of feed.
Otago Federated Farmers president Phil Hunt said while conditions were much improved on a month ago, the effects were still being felt.
Ewes were in light condition going into tupping and supplementary feed was short with many farmers reliant on feed held over from last harvest. Hunt said off-farm grazing was also in short supply.
“We are having a great autumn flush but it is hard work getting weight on ewes at this time of year.”
Paterson said the 54mm that fell this week followed 80mm earlier in the month and prior to that rain event he said the soil profile was devoid of moisture, the driest he had seen it since arriving on the farm, in 1966.
They have been able to finish stock and his stud Hereford cattle had enjoyed the dry feed but Paterson said land preparation appeared to influence how well winter crops had survived the dry.
Crops where soil had been compacted as part of the sowing process had held on better than crops that had not.
Hay and baleage was made before Christmas before conditions became serious.
The new threat was internal parasites and flies and Paterson has been busy jetting stock to provide protection.
The rain has eased pressure on Southland rivers, allowing Environment Southland to declare most of region’s rivers and aquifers back to normal levels for this time of year.
Director of science and information Graham Sevicke-Jones said the council no longer considered Southland’s water situation ‘serious’ and with more rain forecast the chances of facing future water shortages were low.
By: Annette Scott
Source: Farmers Weekly