Thursday, April 25, 2024

Re-fencing a godsend for cyclone-hit farmers

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Commence the Re-Fence was launched at the Fieldays in June, with Federated Farmers and the Farmy Army involved as partners.
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When Cyclone Gabrielle blew through, it destroyed more than 16km of fencing on Warren Milligan’s farm in Te Karaka, just inland from Gisborne. 

He’d worked hard to fence the river running through his property to keep stock out, but flooding from the February storm wiped it out. 

At $30 a metre to replace, that’s a bill of $480,000.

“I can’t afford to put that amount of fencing back on my own,” Milligan said.

It’s no surprise that Milligan said help from Commence the Re-Fence and the Farmy Army has been a morale booster and “absolutely brilliant”.

The Re-Fence crew restored 400m of fenceline on his farm, and Farmy Army volunteers have also pitched in, building gates and tackling other clean-up tasks.

Milligan said affected farmers need to ditch any ‘just soldier on by yourself’ mentality.  

“It’s a lot of stress to cope with. When help is available, grab it.”

Federated Farmers meat and wool chair and Gisborne farmer Toby Williams said for many farmers, the damage is the equivalent of 15- or 20-years’ fencing budgets blown in one hit.

Eight months on, plenty of boundary fences in Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay are yet to be restored, let alone thousands of kilometres of internal fences.

“Any help restoring fences really lifts spirits,” Williams said.

Commence the Re-Fence was launched at the Fieldays in June, with Federated Farmers and the Farmy Army involved as partners. Pivotal to its success is the donation of two tractors by Case IH and New Holland, and post-ramming gear from Hawke’s Bay farm machinery specialist Stevenson & Taylor.

“It’s fantastic that those guys stepped up like that,” Ben Moore, Farmy Army and Stock Feed co-ordinator for Federated Farmers, said. 

“Those tractors are worth the best part of $100k each and we’re talking $25k-plus of rammers on the back.”

Money from the North Island Weather Event Fund and the Farmers Adverse Events Fund is paying for professional fencing contractors, and owners of cyclone-hit farms and lifestyle blocks get up to three days’ help.

“For health and safety – that’s for animals and humans – the focus is on roadside fences, but fencelines on waterways and farm boundaries are also a priority,” Moore said.

Fences have been restored on more than 50 Hawke’s Bay properties.

“There’s a long way to go – for some farms it will take years to fully recover.

“A guy I’ve been dealing with, helping to get silage and hay in there, has estimated there’s 75km of fencing that still needs doing in Eskdale alone.”

The other donated tractor has been operating in the Te Karaka, Ōtoko area of Gisborne. Before they move on, Commence the Re-Fence will have given fencing support to 22 properties there.  

In the first week of November, Moore travelled further up the East Coast on SH35 to Te Araroa, Tikitiki and Ruatōria to assess the need.

“The amount of damage up there is astronomical,” he said. “We all know it’s a wild part of New Zealand, and there’s always been animals on the road, but it’s so much worse now, with fences down all over the place.

“We came round one bend and there were about 20 beef cattle on the road. I really had to the slam the anchors on.”

Moore said slumps and slips on roads continue to take out fencelines. 

Waka Kotahi is exempt from Fencing Act obligations, but Moore argues that needs to be revisited. 

“The transport agency should be just as concerned as farmers about the danger of stock on roads and when a road has slumped – perhaps because of lack of maintenance and clearing of culverts.

“Surely there should be some obligation on the Crown as well to contribute to getting fences up again?”

Moore encouraged cyclone-hit farmers north of Gisborne and on the East Cape to put up their hand for help from Commence the Re-Fence. 

“Knowing where the fencing gap hotspots are will help with co-ordination and maximising bang for buck.”

Federated Farmers Gisborne-Wairoa president Hunaara Wairehu added that there’s no need to feel whakama (shy or embarrassed) about getting this help.

“Mother Nature dealt Tairāwhiti a significant blow, and the sooner we can get farm fences back to where they should be, the faster we can restore production and keep stock off the roads.”

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Federated Farmers, New Zealand’s leading independent rural advocacy organisation, has established a news and insights partnership with AgriHQ, the country’s leading rural publisher, to give the farmers of New Zealand a more informed, united and stronger voice. Feds news and commentary appears each week in its own section of the Farmers Weekly print edition and online.

In Focus: Farmy Army

The Farmy Army is on the ground in Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti helping cyclone-hit farmers mend broken fences – Ben Moore gives Bryan an update on their progress (skip to the 16-minute mark).

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