Tuesday, December 5, 2023

All eyes on new recovery minister for Hawke’s Bay

Neal Wallace
Region pleads for greater certainty on government support.
Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty announced the amendments and an attempted rebranding of the policy as “affordable water”.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Farmers and growers say they are in limbo three months after Cyclone Gabrielle and hope the appointment of a third Hawke’s Bay Lead Recovery Minister in three months will provide greater direction and certainty about government support.

Wairarapa Member of Parliament Kieran McAnulty has been appointed to the position following the earlier demotion of Napier MP Stuart Nash and the defection to Te Pati Māori last week of Meka Whaitiri.

McAnulty acknowledged the size of the task ahead and said he wants to hear what the community needs.

“It is a locally led response. My job is to support that,” he told Farmers Weekly.

He said more support is coming.

Growers and farmers say they are in limbo, needing to make decisions as winter looms but waiting to learn the details of government aid.

“On the ground everybody is running around in circles, wanting to get their farms fixed but they don’t know who will pay for or if it is worth doing or how it will look on the bank balance,” Gisborne Federated Farmers president Charlie Reynolds said.

They want to replace bridges, tracks and fences so they will not be destroyed by the next storm, but need government guidance on whether that is possible.

”That’s the type of direction we want, to improve our resilience and not just replace it with the same bridges and have the same issue next flood.”

The reopening on Sunday of the crucial Waikare Bridge on State Highway 2 between Wairoa and Napier has been welcomed by local farmer Ben Lee for enabling people to reconnect and allow for the movement of freight and livestock.

Parts of the road are still vulnerable and Lee said locals have been advised to be prepared for road closures due to winter weather conditions.

“This is concerning for all residents, workers, farmers and foresters and no one wants to be cut off again.”

A Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study commissioned by Hawke’s Bay Fruitgrowers found the cyclone affected 35% of region’s crops at total economic impact of $1.4 billion.

It calculated it will cost $370m to remove silt, slash and other debris from farms, vineyards and orchards and contaminated crops, and will reduce the economic value of the region to $0.9bn in 2023.

Hawke’s Bay Fruitgrowers president Brydon Nisbet said growers hope the government will meet half the recovery cost.

“Hawke’s Bay can’t afford a weak horticultural industry. It’s really important the government give confidence to growers.”

Removing silt and debris costs about $130,000/ha and Nisbet welcomed the recently announced government contribution of half those costs.

It will take at least seven years for production on destroyed apple orchards to recover, with replacement trees not ready to plant until 2025.

Gisborne kiwifruit grower Craig Wallis said the BCG report could apply equally to his region.

Te Tairāwhiti kiwifruit orchard have a specific problem depending upon the type of root stock they used.

“Most of those orchards that have Bruno rootstock who have silt issues are going to have to replant with Bounty rootstock that holds up better.”

It will take more than a year before those crops start producing again.

“Any recovery programme almost needs to look at the needs of each individual grower to get back to full production.”

He said the Te Tairāwhiti region has managed recovery fund allocation well with oversight by Trust Te Tairāwhiti, and believes local decisions should be made with experienced locals.

McAnulty said the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is working with the horticulture sector to calculate the estimated costs and will be release those findings once they have been reviewed and validated.

Hawke’s Bay Federated Farmers president Jim Galloway said hill country farmers have had little government help.

“If they are going to do something we want them to let us know what they are thinking and when they will make a decision.”

Rural roads remain fragile and Galloway said it is essential they are repaired.

McAnulty said he has visited the region many times since the cyclone and seen the devastation.

The government has so far made $74m available to help affected farmers and growers clean up and re-establish their businesses, for which it has received over 6000 applications for grants, with 5090 approved and over $57.7m paid out to date.

“This is just a small part of support we have already delivered but I know more support will be needed,” he said.

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