There are fears the hit taken by farmers (kaipāmu) in the Cyclone Gabrielle floods could top $1 billion as almost 3400 producers apply for financial support within weeks of a government recovery fund being established.
Of those applications, 1754 were approved within the first two weeks and nearly $20.5m paid out to farmers and growers, according to Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) director for animal health and welfare Dr Carolyn Guy.
A $25m support fund was announced by the government (karauna) on February 21, and topped up with a further $26m on March 6.
The funding was aimed at ensuring farmers and growers could get back on their feet as quickly as possible, Guy said.
Grants of up to $10,000 are available for pastoral and arable farmers to help with initial recovery, such as repairs to water systems for livestock, and fencing.
Up to $2000 per hectare (up to a maximum of $40,000) is available for growers to remove silt from trees and vines, support clean-up, and minimise future losses.
As of Wednesday, MPI had received 3396 applications.
Federated Farmers chief executive Terry Copeland said the government funding is “very welcome”.
“But I think everyone – including the government – knows it’s only a step along the long path to recovery.”
Copeland said the cost of cyclone damage is still being counted and some farmers, such as those in Tairāwhiti, have not been able to access all of their property to assess damage.
Stock losses will be in the many, many thousands of animals.
“As an educated estimate, the Federated Farmers policy team believes total on-farm costs, including income disruption, infrastructure repair and crop/orchard restoration bills, for all affected farmers and growers could top $1 billion,” Copeland said.
This is not counting the cost to New Zealand in terms of public infrastructure, food shortages and inflation, he said.
Of the money already paid out, Guy said almost 60% has gone to sheep and beef farmers, 25% to orchardists and wine growers and the remainder to dairy farmers, and arable and vegetable growers.
Half of the funding went to farmers and growers in Hawke’s Bay, 20% to the Gisborne district, and the remainder to Northland and other regions.
Applications for the grants close on March 20, but will be extended to April 3 for those living in hard-to-reach areas.
An active national response is underway to support those affected by the cyclone, and regional control centres have been established in Northland, Tairāwhiti and Hawke’s Bay.
Guy said she is aware some farmers are anxious about getting stock off their properties. MPI is working closely with animal sector groups, meat processors and farmers on options to get sheep and cattle out of isolated communities, including where possible droving via forestry roads.
“Operation Muster, a community-led operation, is in full swing and supported by MPI . The community is droving a few thousand lambs across culverts, mainly in Rissington and Puketitiri areas initially.”
Guy said MPI is responsible for co-ordinating animal welfare services after the cyclone and uses specialist providers, such as the Massey Veterinary Emergency Response Team. The team is trained to assist with animal rescues in damaged or destroyed buildings, flood situations and other natural disasters and has been involved in more than 20 rescues. Animal Evac New Zealand’s swift water rescue team assisted early in the response. Local veterinarians are also being used when needed.
One Hawke’s Bay veterinarian spoken to by Farmers Weekly said he was disappointed at the lack of communication from MPI during the operation and felt the response was “fractured”.
“MPI supposedly had a plan but they could have let us know where we fitted into that plan, rather than us running around trying to find out what’s going on,” he said.
Guy said the scale of the cyclone and its impact on communications, power, and roading links created challenges for everyone involved, “but our team, along with our key animal welfare support agencies, have done their best and worked hard to help”.