Sunday, December 3, 2023

Kaipara farms suffer huge damage but attract less awareness

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Community BBQs full of stories of toll taken on farms north of Auckland.
The area between Tauhoa and Puhoi saw more than a metre of rain over the first two months of this year, says Allan Barber.
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The horrific damage caused in different North Island regions by the cyclones and heavy rain events since the beginning of the year has led people to focus mostly on West Auckland, Northland and more recently Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti. But it has been less appreciated just how badly North Auckland has been hit by massive slips, road closures and damage to properties between Tauhoa and Puhoi covering the area between SH16 in the west and SH1 in the east. The area has seen more than a metre of rain over the first two months of this year.

Many of the farms have suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars’ damage, requiring several years of remediation work. The January rain event that produced 350 ml of rain followed a path from Tauhoa, over Kaipara Hills, across the Hoteo River and beyond to the back of Warkworth and south to Puhoi, before continuing down the coast, inflicting massive damage on Auckland’s west coast beach settlements and flooding the airport.

On Monday February 27 more than 100 farmers, lifestyle block owners and supporters attended a community BBQ, organised by a rural collaboration group, in support of flood-ravaged farmers at Kaipara Flats Sports Club. Co-ordinator Mike Borrie from Fonterra in Whangārei told me this was one of several throughout the north designed to get affected farmers together and to put them in contact with support providers and agencies at a very difficult time. Members of the collaboration group include the Rural Support Trust, Federated Farmers, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, DairyNZ, Fonterra, FMG, Ballance, the Ministry for Primary Industries, the police and others. Meat companies AFFCO, Silver Fern Farms and Greenlea are providing meat for the get-togethers.

At the function I spoke to several of the affected farmers who described the impact on their properties from the volume of rain in the January event, further exacerbated by the high winds of Cyclone Gabrielle and a further torrential downpour an hour before the BBQ. AFFCO buyer and farmer Brett Innes showed me a video of the slips, flattened fencing and destroyed culverts on the family farm run by his brother Scott and continuing onto his own farm next door. Further down the hills, Tony Rodgers’ stockyards suffered huge slumps of more than a metre, and part of his woolshed was taken out.

Steven Dill said his access road was blocked, power was still out and he couldn’t even start to get his head round the damage or assess just how many hundreds of thousands of dollars it would take to repair. Neighbour Peter Anich is one of the few to have insured his fences, but access points, crossings and culverts are all blocked, while he had started to repair one of the culverts only for a downpour to undo his work; riparian planting and wetlands have all been destroyed. He is only able to take a short-term approach at present, until the weather improves and he can reach currently inaccessible parts of his farm.

Closer to Warkworth Peter Scott farms 80ha where he finishes bulls and lambs. He reckons he got away quite lightly as he lost no stock, having sent everything he could to the works three days earlier, but all his fences were destroyed by huge amounts of forestry slash from Moir Hill swept down the Kourawhero stream, which he described as a torrent more like the Waikato River. He reckons this year is the worst he has seen in 50 years of farming, although he is optimistic a bit of good weather will still see the grass grow before winter.

Nearer town between Kaipara Flats Road and Woodcocks Road, Hereford breeders and sheep farmers Dean and Marjorie Blythen have lost eight hay paddocks where the grass has died from the constant flooding from five heavy rain events already this year, although they still have two paddocks left which they hope will dry out so they can make a small amount of winter feed. They also lost 40 sheep during the worst of the flooding, while access to parts of their property is restricted and the sheer amount of tree branches and silt makes it hard to get round all the broken fencing.

Local contractors Rhodes for Roads were well represented at the community BBQ and have been doing lots of digger work to help farmers repair culverts and dig their way out of properties where roads are blocked. They have also been working hard to clear the connecting roads between SH16 and SH1, which at times have been a lifeline for drivers affected by the frequent road closures on the main highway north. 

Generators have been in short supply, but are an essential piece of equipment for properties suffering up to several weeks without power.

These past few weeks have served to emphasise the critical importance of finishing the Puhoi-to-Warkworth stretch of motorway, now well over a year late, as well as the downright stupidity of this government’s failure to plan for the extension of the motorway to Wellsford and eventually to Whangārei. The near and far north have been inexcusably let down by the shortsighted politics of envy, which have condemned Northland to being effectively cut off from the rest of the country as a consequence of successive weather events. 

There won’t be many voters north of the Auckland Harbour Bridge who can even begin to understand the government’s fixation with light rail to the airport and cycleways, which seem to take precedence over old-fashioned essential infrastructure like roads and rail.