Thursday, April 25, 2024

Volunteers bringing order to Gabrielle chaos 

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Many have Commence the Re-Fence to thank for helping relieve rebuild pain.
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Nine months after Cyclone Gabrielle, farmers in the Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay regions are slowly getting back on their feet, and many have Commence the Re-Fence to thank for helping relieve some of the pain of the massive rebuild. 

Commence the Re-Fence is an initiative of CNH Industrial, which donated two tractors – a Case IH JX100 and a New Holland TD5.90 – and CNH Industrial dealership Stevenson & Taylor, which loaned two Kinghitter post rammers. 

Federated Farmers has involved fencing contractors and “Farmy Army” volunteers working to rebuild fencing on more than 40 farms in the Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne regions since June.

Greg and Mark Morice farm 88ha in the Hawke’s Bay area, which before Cyclone Gabrielle comprised an apple orchard and livestock operation. The cyclone wiped out 2ha of the orchard after 200 tonnes of timber, washed down the neighbouring Tutaekuri River, came through the apple orchard. The remainder of the trees were removed in subsequent weeks due to damage. 

The couple of hundred ewes and cows were safe on higher ground on the property, as was the family’s home, but hundreds of metres of fencing, water pumps and other infrastructure were washed away. 

“Federated Farmers got in touch with us some time later and the Commence the Re-Fence work started from there. Because we had some flat land, we were lucky in that they could get easier access so the team was able to start in July,” Greg Morice said. 

“They were able to re-fence our boundary, about 1.2km of fencing in all over three days. It was brilliant – they were a very professional fencing crew, with a new tractor and rammer.”

Morice said it had been a difficult time, with the entire apple orchard levelled in the weeks after the cyclone and the prospect of a six-figure sum to replant it. The plan was, he said, to plant it to a vegetable crop this year, and then winter grass for the next two to three years, before looking at starting all over again with new apple trees.

“With all the other jobs we had to do around the place, it would have taken us ages to get onto that fencing job, and in terms of labour it saved us thousands of dollars. We provided the materials for the work, but with the loss of income from the orchard, and reduced income from the farm, to save that much money is significant for us this year.”

John Kilmister runs JK Fencing and Construction, based in the Hawke’s Bay area, and is the face of Commence the Re-Fence. He has two teams on the project, and they spend three days on each farm. For Kilomister and his staff, it’s been an incredibly rewarding project.    

 “Hawke’s Bay was one of the worst hit areas. People lost kilometres of fencing, particularly in lower areas near rivers and creeks; and even in the hillier country, away from flood waters, severe erosion impacted a lot of fencing there,” Kilmister said.

“It’s been really satisfying to be involved with this. Farmers are so glad to see you, and so appreciative. On some places we’ve been to, there are still people living in caravans because they can’t go back to their homes. As well as the financial impact, there’s a mental health impact, too, so for some people I think it’s just been good for them to see a new face and have someone new to talk to.” 

Matt Truebridge and his family live on Brooklands Station, a sheep and beef finishing farm of 800ha near Puketapu. 

While there was no building damage, the property suffered extensive flooding with the water and debris uprooting  fences, carving channels through roads and depositing enormous amounts of silt and debris.

“It is a situation where you find yourself unable to comprehend and not knowing where to start the clean-up. Our local school community leaped into action with support and recovery agencies enlisted,” Truebridge said.

“It was through the school we learnt about Commence the Re-Fence. It’s a fantastic scheme to be able to tap into when stock-proofing our farms was such a high priority. The Case IH tractor and Kinghitter post driver were such a welcome sight. It was a real boost to our recovery, and meant one less job to worry about.” 

The efforts of Commence the Re-Fence continue, with plans to help with fencing on at least 100 properties by the time it wraps up. 

At the end of the project, Federated Farmers in conjunction with CNH Industrial will donate the two tractors to two cyclone-affected farmers who have been part of the initiative. 

To nominate a deserving farmer for one of the tractors, go to the website

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