As the region deals with swelling rivers that have flooded homes, Federated Farmers are not yet making a public statement out of respect for those in the Westport township.
But Stuff understands up to 1400 cattle, many of them pregnant, have been killed on a dairy farm left 70 per cent under water in the Buller Gorge. There were many reports of dead animals being washed downstream to beaches near Westport.
The farmer was too devastated about the loss of his cattle to talk when contacted by Stuff.
West Coast Tasman MP and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor told media at least one farm had lost up to 700 animals, possibly more, in what was an “extraordinary” weather.
The animals had been moved to historically safe places, but the river came up much higher than expected, causing them to “panic” and run into the water.
O’Connor said his brother’s farm near Westport had been affected and would face some “challenges”.
“Quite a few of the farms here, like the people in houses, will have a challenging time ahead.”
The situation had been classified as a medium-scale adverse event, unlocking $200,000 for flood-affected farmers across the West Coast and Marlborough.
O’Connor said the extra funding would be used to help farmers recover, and included wellbeing support, specialist technical advice and other flood assistance.
“Support is available for farmers who are short of livestock feed, or who have had baleage and fodder crops damaged by floodwaters.”
He denied there were problems with the area’s infrastructure, saying it was not known how much water could fall in the hills.
“The infrastructure is OK … the Buller River is normally a big river, this is historically high levels that have never been seen before.”
The impact of the flooding was similar to what happened in Canterbury in late May. Ensuring farmers had enough feed would be a priority, he said.
“This weather event has put further pressure on farmers who’re entering one of their busiest times of the year – calving and lambing – and we’re committed to helping them get through.
“Based on the advice I have received from Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) staff, the scale of impact is beyond the communities’ ability to cope.”
MPI would work with industry groups like DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Federated Farmers and NZ Winegrowers, he said.
Rural support trustee Dianne Milne was unaware of any stock losses in the Grey district, but Buller was “pretty hard hit”. It was the time of year when farmers were trying to conserve feed, but that would now be under water.
Rural support was offering assistance, but their work would likely ramp up most in the recovery stage over the coming weeks, she said.
Buller mayor Jamie Cleine had also heard of stock losses on local farms, including one that lost 700 out of 800 cows, and another reporting up to 200 missing.
“This time of year it is highly likely many are pregnant.”