Thursday, December 7, 2023

Recovery ‘marathon’ lies ahead for farms

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News cycles move on but cyclone-hit properties are looking at years of work ahead.
The worst hit growers remain in limbo, waiting to see if their businesses remain viable and what the future holds for them.
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Some farmers and growers could take a decade to fully recover from the impact of Cyclone Gabrielle, says the Rural Support Trust.

“The rest of the country thinks everything is fine,” said RST Hawke’s Bay co-ordinator Jonathan Bell.

“It’s out of the news now, and now we’re worried about a whole lot of other things.  But the clean-up in Hawke’s Bay will take years and some farms will take almost a decade to recover.”

Bell said rural support has had teams in the area since February, offering any support it can to affected farmers. The trust has the option of using more people from outside the region if required and is also working closely with local health providers to ensure everyone’s needs are met, particularly mental wellness support.

“We are dealing with some people now. It’s a reasonable number of people but we believe more will come in time.

“Someone made the comment to me the other day that covid-19 spread everyone apart, but tropical Cyclone Gabrielle is bringing everyone together.

“That’s communities and also service providers, which is pretty good.”

Bell said the trust offers an 0800 number for people wanting help, 0800 787 254. Calls are “triaged” and a decision made about which facilitator is best placed to deal with that person.

“It’s a one-on-one conversation  to ascertain where they are at, what are the issues they’re having and what sort of support do they need.

“Then we go and find the people. It may be counselling, a consultant to discuss the viability of their business, or an independent financial person to discuss loan structures.

“Anything that they need at all and we will try and find the right people to put in front of them.”

Bell said the worst-hit growers remain in limbo, waiting to see if their businesses remain viable and what the future holds for them.

For some the decision has been made for them, because there is no orchard left.

“Then there are the ones who have had some damage. They could be looking at $300,000 to $380,000 a hectare to replace trees. You won’t get a decent income for five years and may not be able to replant this winter depending on the depth of the silt.”

Bell said the region is still waiting on a structure and recovery plan, which needs to be led by the local council, central government and other agencies.

There has already been some financial support from the government but “we’d like to think there is more” . 

Volunteers are still helping out on some farms and orchards but other property owners have opted to bring in contractors to clear tracks, culverts and fences. Bell knows of farms that have lost 2-7km of fencing. If you multiply that by the 1000 large beef and lamb farms in the region, he said, it shows what a mammoth task repairs are.

“The impact to Hawke’s Bay from a farming financial point of view is huge. But it’s also from an infrastructure point of view, with roads and bridges still out.

“This is a marathon. We’ve got a long way to go. The adrenaline has worn off and people are realising the enormity of what is in front of them.”