Thursday, December 7, 2023

Little for ‘individual farmers’ in relief package 

Neal Wallace
Growers’ hopes now pinned on June funding announcement.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Cyclone-ravaged farmers and growers say the government’s billion-dollar cyclone relief package provides little of what they need.

While welcoming a commitment to invest in repairing infrastructure such as roads, bridges and stop banks, they said there wasn’t any assistance to replace uninsurable fences or fruit trees.

Farming leaders said an initiative such as a government-backed low-interest loan facility to help fund these replacements would have been welcomed.

“There was nothing in it for individual farmers and growers. It was disappointing but not surprising,” said Federated Farmers board member and East Coast farmer Toby Williams.

He said some arable growers and orchardists have lost crops worth $1 million and with them the financial ability to survive, let alone sow next year’s crop.

With overdraft rates of 11% or 12%, funding repairs and replacement is in many cases prohibitive.

Hort NZ Hawke’s Bay chair Brydon Nisbet said the package does not provide growers with certainty, but he is hopeful a new funding package to be released early next month could provide them with some direction.

In a pre-Budget announcement in Hawke’s Bay, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins unveiled a billion-dollar cyclone recovery package that includes funding for the rebuilding and repair of roads, rail and schools, flood protection, child mental health, farm advisers, job training and development.  

For the primary sector, the package focuses on flood protection work ($100m) and $35.4m to support the safety and wellbeing of farmers and growers and livestock, and funding to support urgent maintenance and supplies, critical to the health and safety of stock and staff.

The cyclone has disrupted the availability of seasonal employment and the package includes funding to help retrain people for jobs required during the recovery and rebuild.

Williams said after decades of neglect he welcomed the $275m for the NZ Transport Agency (Waka Kotahi) and local councils to repair damaged roads, in addition to the $250m announced immediately after the cyclone.

He hopes the rebuilt roads and bridges will be more resilient than those they replace.

“If that is part of the billion-dollar package then it will be outstanding,” he said.

Hawke’s Bay Federated Farmers president Jim Galloway welcomed the $3.6m contribution to the Hill Country Erosion Fund to provide management and planting advice on the region’s steepest hill country.

He also welcomed funding for flood protection work but said there is little point strengthening or lifting the height of stop banks without removing shingle clogging riverbeds.

Galloway said the package is short on detail about how to access funding.

The lack of certainty about government aid means horticultural growers are delaying making decisions and plans, and Nisbet said they need certainty.

They could have handled surface flooding, he said, but the failure of infrastructure allowed a deluge of silt and debris, which destroyed or badly damaged orchards.

“It leaves growers in limbo with no certainty about what the future is for them, to allow them to plan, to buy trees or reinstate blocks.”

A report for the horticultural sector has calculated that it will take $1.5bn to reinstate the industry; growers have said they will fund half.

Nisbet said he is keen to see what next month’s package will provide.

People are also reading