Fonterra is hopeful its milk collections will return to normal in the next 24-36 hours as floodwaters across the Canterbury Plains subside and roading repairs begin.
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Fonterra is working closely with transport authorities to determine when its milk tanker fleet can proceed.

The closure of Ashburton Bridge means an alternative route will be required for tankers collecting milk.

Fonterra is working closely with transport authorities to determine when its milk tanker fleet can proceed along an inland route via SH72 or other roads to reach its farms for collection, Fonterra head of Farm Source for Canterbury, Tasman and Marlborough Charles Fergusson says.

“We are confident that once a route north to south, south to north is opened up that we will be able to get to a relatively normal collection cycle quite quickly,” Fergusson said.

There were some winter milkers and some who were still milking from last season.

“A large number of farmers took the opportunity to dry off before this weather hit when they may have normally gone a few more days, but there are still a few out there who are still finishing off this season and will continue to milk for another week,” he said.

“As of today, (June 1) we are really confident of picking up all of the milk off our farms in Canterbury and North Otago, but overnight there were just south of 100 farms who we weren’t able to get to collect,” he said.

Milk has been processed mainly at Clandeboye and Studholme. Its Darfield plant was closed for the winter.

Fonterra tankers were out on June 1 collecting milk, as well as inspecting tanker tracks around the region to assess its safety.

He says most farms can store the milk in the vat for a couple of days and those who are milking usually get their milk collected every two days. This should also allow Fonterra to collect that milk in time, he said.

Advice from Civil Defence prompted Fonterra to evacuate its Clandeboye facility on May 31, and staff were only able to get Clandeboye back up and running later that afternoon.

“The challenge last night, which kicked into overnight collections, was that it was still raining, we had main roads shut and we had to assume that tanker tracks on farms had been impacted,” he said.

“The health and safety risk of sending tankers out in those circumstances was too great.”

Fergusson says the co-operative had been directly in touch with affected farmers to understand their situation and how it could help.

It was also working with other agricultural organisations such as DairyNZ, Federated Farmers and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

He says it was extremely fortunate the flooding had not occurred in November around peak milk.

“From an on-farm perspective, when you’re trying to milk twice a day with a full herd in weather like this, it would have been really tough,” he said.

Dunsandel-based Synlait says its immediate focus was supporting the several farms which supply the company that had been significantly damaged by the flooding.

Synlait chief executive John Penno says the flooding has been a rapidly changing situation, which has required careful safety and operational planning.

“Our thoughts are with our farmer suppliers, many of whom have been badly affected by the flooding. Our focus will be on supporting them as best as we can, as soon as the weather clears,” Penno said.

Milk collection has been challenging due to road closures. At this point, no milk has been lost, the company said.

Synlait operated a small team at its Dunsandel factory earlier in the week to ensure the facility remained secure and that it could keep supplying South Island Foodstuffs outlets.

Normal onsite operations resumed from midday on June 1, subject to no further deterioration in site access. The company’s non-operational staff are continuing to work from home as the region recovers.

It said the flooding will have no impact on its production plans or guidance outlook for the season ahead.

Last month, 14 of our dairy farms in Maine, as well as dozens of dairy farms across northern New England, got an unexpected and disappointing notice from Danone of North America saying that they were discontinuing their contracts with our organic dairy farmers in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and elsewhere.

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