Saturday, December 2, 2023

Cyclone-hit farmers desperate for certainty

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Many in east coast ‘feeling abandoned’ as they wait for news about infrastructure repairs and long-term support.
Some farmers purchased their own heavy machinery to carry out earthworks, while others have had to wait for contractors.
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A lack of direction is causing uncertainty and hindering recovery for cyclone-ravaged farmers, said Federated Farmers Gisborne Wairoa acting president Charlie Reynolds.

More than two months since Cyclone Gabrielle battered the region, many of those severely impacted are still dealing with slips, blocked roads, damaged fencing and a multitude of other repairs on and around their properties.

Reynolds said many farmers in the region are feeling abandoned as they wait for news about repairs to key roads, bridges and what long-term support is on offer.

“We don’t know which direction we are supposed to be going in,” Reynolds said.

“It’s not really the money, although money is going to be needed.  But we just need some direction. We need to be told ‘We’re going to replace these roads and rebuild these bridges, we don’t know when but this is the game plan.’”

Parts of State Highway 2 remain closed or with restrictions to traffic, which continues to cause issues for farmers transporting stock around the region and growers wanting to access Napier Port. 

Reynolds has spoken to Transport Minister Michael Wood, who has offered to front a meeting to discuss options. The government has earmarked an initial $250 million for Waka Kotahi and local councils to assess and fix roads, and $74m for affected farmers and growers to clean up and re-establish their businesses. 

But many questions remain unanswered, such as, should farmers be expected to replace damaged riparian fencing? Reynolds said with more trees likely to be waiting upstream, the fencing will only be destroyed again in another flood event.

“It’s those basic things that put your brain in a better place because you’ve got certainty. I think that’s the biggest thing, the lack of certainty for farmers.”

A shortage of contractors is also affecting the ability of some farmers to get repairs done at their properties.

Those who can afford it have purchased heavy machinery and learnt to use it themselves, while “people who can’t afford to do that are just having to wait”.

Reynolds said those in the horticulture industry are no different. Banks have been supportive in offering short-term loans to help cover damage, but many growers are facing unaffordable long-term, expensive debt and an uncertain future.

The pressure is impacting  mental wellbeing, though support is in place for those who need it, he said.

“There are a few that need a lot more support than others.

“Once the sun starts shining you do feel a bit better. You start knocking off little things such as fixing a hole in a fence, and suddenly it’s ‘Right, that job’s done.’

“But sometimes it’s hard to help others when you’re trying to deal with your own mess.”

The Federated Farmers initiative Farmy Army has done a great job helping provide labour for the clean-up, Reynolds said, but numbers can be hit and miss.

“One weekend you might get 30 people who come in to help and next weekend you might get two. And it’s so weather-dependent.”

Reynolds said ultimately it is failed infrastructure in the region that needs to be addressed.

“How are we going to become more resilient so this doesn’t happen again? Obviously we are going to get cyclones, but we need to prevent the situation where people are losing everything in one night.

“Something needs to be done.”