It’s been more than five weeks since Cyclones Hale and Gabrielle wreaked havoc in the North Island, but farmers and rural communities are still in desperate need of resources and support, says Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) Māori Agribusiness Advisor Pania King.
B+LNZ staff are working throughout the cyclone-affected regions, feeding into the national response, and connecting with farming communities, while CEO Sam McIvor has been updating Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor and other industry leaders on what farmers need.
King, who is Gisborne-based, has been part of helicopter crews flying to isolated farmers to deliver much-needed resources and welfare checks.
“The lack of access along with farmer and animal welfare have been the priority. Bridges and roads are gone or badly damaged, so there’s no alternative other than helicopter trips,” she says.
“People are starting to get frustrated; timeframes put on repair work are not being met – that’s the general feeling.”
While many have moved into the recovery phase, some farmers and their families remain isolated.
King, who has been visiting and video calling them, says the regular contact has proved hugely important.
“The main thing as mana whenua is to make sure that our rural communities and our farmers know we are there for them,” she says.
“When we land, we do a welfare check and provide whatever they need. We’ve heard repeatedly from farmers how pleased they are to see a familiar face.”
King says rural communities have come together, helping in any way they can.
“It’s been a real team effort, one example is Hayden Bruce, a local cropping contractor, he used a bulldozer to cut a track through to Waimaha Station. He arrived about two hours before we did in the helicopter.”
Mark and Casey Maddock, who manage Waimaha Station, had been without power for nearly a week when King arrived in late February.
“The best feeling is after four or five days of no power, no communication, no way in or out, is having a helicopter turn up and people to say ‘hello’ and ask what you need,” says Casey.
“Thank you to Hayden Bruce and Pania King and others who raised our spirits and made us feel like we hadn’t been forgotten in that crazy time.
“Knowing that most had returned to some normality while we were still in survival mode was so hard.”
King has video called others, like Hangaroa farmers Ian and Helen Burgess, offering support and direction.
“Ian and I were at a particularly low ebb, I think the initial adrenaline had worn off, being stuck in the house listening to the rain all night. That with the lost sleep, it all added up,” says Helen.
“The negative thoughts were gaining strength, but Pania’s hard work gave those thoughts a good shove off our shoulders.”
Hawke’s Bay-based B+LNZ Lead Extension Manager Mark Harris says work is still ongoing to assess the full extent of the damage caused by Cyclone Gabrielle.
“We’re still gathering data on the size of the challenge farmers are facing,” he says.
“This will enable us, and our partner agencies, to help communities with their targeted recovery in the most effective way.”
Meanwhile, B+LNZ CEO Sam McIvor has been updating ministers and other industry leaders on the needs of farmers. He also reiterated that putting a stop to regulatory changes would offer farmers extra capacity to focus on running and rebuilding their businesses.
“It’s important to understand the situation leading up to the cyclones,” he says.
“Sheep and beef farmers are facing a very challenging year financially, and are mentally weary from the constant regulatory uncertainty, now many have a significant rebuild to do.
“I’ve emphasised that we must prioritise rural infrastructure, especially roading access.
“Though the national emergency response has ended, many farmers are still in emergency circumstances and the Government has a responsibility to ensure that they are adequately cared for and supported.
“It needs to work with our people and groups like Federated Farmers and Rural Support to ensure the right support gets to the right people at the right time.”