Some fruit and vegetable growers in Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay could take years to recover from the carnage caused by Cyclone Gabrielle, according to industry groups.
New Zealand Apples and Pears member engagement manager Anna Lambourne said damage to orchards is still being assessed, but it is already clear some growers have lost their orchards, infrastructure and homes.
New Zealand Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan described the latest flood as another kick in the teeth for growers, on the back of covid and border restrictions in recent years.
“You start to wonder what else will get thrown at us,” he said.
Grapes in some areas had been just “days or weeks” away from being picked, but many vines are now underwater or covered in silt.
Gregan said the organisation’s focus is to determine the extent of damage in both regions, but also make sure “our people are safe, and given the communication issues that’s an ongoing task”.
There are also significant issues with electricity, water and road infrastructure.
“Those things will enable our industry to access their vineyards and process their crops in due course.”
There are several hundred winegrowers in Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay and more than 6000ha of vineyards across the two regions, he said.
The organisation was able to contact some growers in Hawke’s Bay on Thursday but communication with Gisborne members has not been as successful.
“We just don’t know the numbers at the moment. There is obviously some extensive damage. We’ve got vineyards flooded but lots of vineyards effectively haven’t been touched at all by floods.
“A lot has depended on where the vineyards are located in respect of where flood banks have been breached.”
Gregan said they are working closely with government agencies to arrange support for growers.
“Ultimately the big question is how do we get support from government into those vineyard and winery owners who have been severely affected?
“It’s very tough on the affected owners. We are going to have to help them over the next year or two I suspect.”
Lambourne said New Zealand Apples and Pears is also focusing on the wellbeing of its members.
Damage to the pip fruit sector varies in severity across Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti. Staff are assessing the damage but it is clear some growers have nothing left.
The less-affected areas will be able to harvest and pack their fruit for export and local markets over the coming weeks. Picking is already under way for early-maturing varieties.
A major challenge will be the clean-up effort, and logistical issues to ensure the remaining pip fruit crop is picked and reaches market, Lambourne said.
“Our industry is resilient, we are a community, and we will rally together to share our equipment and our teams with those in need, to recover and harvest our crops.”
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) has been checking with kiwifruit growers, he government and other stakeholders to determine the extent of the damage and the immediate needs of people.
NZKGI chief executive Colin Bond said the initial response needs to be led by emergency services, but there will be a medium- and long-term response where NZKGI will play a more central role.
The cyclone has been devastating for many growers, but Bond said it is just one of the pressures currently facing growers.
“Most recently the industry continues to work with growers who were impacted by the flooding prior to the cyclone, the halting of the February progress payments and also those growers around the Bay of Plenty who were hit by hail yesterday, among many other issues. So while it is good that there is a strong focus and people willing to help those impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle, the pressure on the kiwifruit industry is widespread,” Bond said.
Meanwhile, Immigration New Zealand said the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is working closely with employers, industry and other agencies to ensure support is provided to Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers who have been affected by the flooding.
Employers are responsible for their workers’ welfare and pastoral care. However, as some employers have been severely impacted, the National Emergency Management Association is providing support to their workers. About 690 people have been displaced from worker accommodation and efforts are under way to relocate them to unaffected areas.
Two of the bigger RSE nations have Pacific liaison officers on the ground in Hawke’s Bay. RSE workers will continue to be paid a minimum of 30 hours per week at $22.10 per hour.