Thursday, November 30, 2023

Farmers gather to share advice, support in cyclone-hit regions

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Catchment groups convene meetings to discuss picking up the pieces after Cyclone Gabrielle.
Farmers from Sherenden, Waiwhare, Crownthorpe and Pukehamoamoa gathered at the Sherenden Hall on Taihape Road. Photo: Suz Bremner
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Community halls around cyclone-hit regions have come alive with meetings as farmers gather to listen to speakers talk about insurance, slip damage, government funding and rural support in the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle. 

One of the most recent meetings, at Sherenden Hall on the Taihape Road, Hawke’s Bay, on February 28, was hosted by Between the Two Rivers Community Catchment and attended by about 75 farmers. It followed a similar meeting at Kereru the day before. 

Advice on insurance was to act fast and get claims in as soon as possible.

“Become your insurance companies’ best friend,” Brett Barrett of Crombie Lockwood Insurance said.

“Get those claims in to join the queue. Companies want clients happy and up and running again as soon as they can.”

Barrett said insurers need to be fully aware of what level of support is needed. Insurers can reinstate pre-damage or make a cash settlement. Advanced payments are available and taking photos of the damage is very important. 

He noted that while New Zealand’s Earthquake Commission national insurance does not cover floods, it does cover damage to land within 8m of a home. 

Barrett also warned the meeting to brace for higher premiums, which are expected to rise by around 15% with some companies possibly making those changes from June onwards. 

Top of mind for many at the meeting was the issue of slips.

Representatives of the Rural Advisory Group were present, led by Mark Harris from Beef + Lamb NZ, who farmed through Cyclone Bola in the late 1980s.  

His advice on slips was “they’ve slipped, there is nothing you can do to change that”. 

“Once the ground settles, throw some seed at it and likely it will come away in thistles initially, but they do provide a protective layer and in 12 months’ time there will be a lot of grass there,” he said. 

“No two slips are the same and each farmer will be dealing with a different scenario.”

These sentiments were echoed later in the meeting by Paul Smith of Abron, who advised farmers not to spend too much money on slips, especially given that the ground is still moving. 

Harris also had some advice on how to get through times.

“What you see is what you have to deal with after a cyclone – unlike a drought – and you are affected personally. 

“Think of it not as a rebuild, but a redesign and order jobs by priority – what needs to be achieved in three days, three weeks,  three months, three to 10 years,” Harris said. 

“You are the crisis manager, but you need to build your team of family, friends, contractors, advisers. 

“Be organised and start early, make things happen by utilising the network of help around you. 

“Your property will never be the same, but it may be better.” 

John Bell from Rural Support Trust – also a Bola survivor – echoed these sentiments. 

“Rural Support Trust and organisations like Farmstrong are here to look after farmers’ welfare, so reach out if it is needed for yourself or someone you know. You are now in the recovery stage after the initial response stage, which largely ran on adrenaline,” he said. 

“In the recovery stage many people are tired and likely not running at optimum decision-making levels. Look after yourself first, then your family and thirdly your community. In 1988 [after Bola] we thought the land would never recover, but it did.” 

Seeking help was a key point stressed by the speakers. Jim Galloway from Federated Farmers said that more than 600 offers of help have been lodged but only 58 farmers or growers have applied for the help.

The main areas of concern from the gathering were access and infrastructure issues, security and communication. 

Local farmer Andrew Russell, a member of Between the Two Rivers Community Catchment, aired concerns about access to information in the early stages.

“We had a transmitter radio but there was no pattern to the information coming through. If we knew that on each hour there would be an update on road conditions or closures and other important information needed, then we could have been able to utilise our time better,” Russell said.

“But the information was sporadic, and you never knew when something important was going to be announced, so you had to stay by the radio.”

Roading was the main topic of discussion for Hastings District Council rural community board member Marcus Buddo. 

Within the Hawke’s Bay District Council area 16 bridges were washed away. All were insured, and more than 100 roading crews have been deployed to clear roads and try to reinstate access. At the time of the meeting, 2900 people were still cut off. Army personnel were able to reach 1700 and the rest could be reached by air. 

Many of the roads that have been re-opened are accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicles, and Buddo invited anyone with roading and access concerns to contact him. Approximately 18 roads remain closed in Central Hawke’s Bay, with significant road closures through northern Hawke’s Bay and other affected regions as well.

More: Read about Suz’s personal experience with Cyclone Gabrielle on-farm here.

This article was written by AgriHQ analyst Suz Bremner. Suz leads the AgriHQ LivestockEye team, including data collectors who are tasked with being on the ground at sale yards throughout the country. Subscribe to AgriHQ reports here.