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Source: Federated Farmers

It’s shaping up to be New Zealand’s most expensive weather event and in terms of its spread and scale, it may be worse than the Christchurch earthquake, Federated Farmers CEO Terry Copeland says.
Copeland, who lost his home in the southern quake, recently saw for himself the flooding, silt and slip damage in rural areas of the Hawke’s Bay.
“There are areas there that look like a lunar landscape – just everything wiped out. There are farmers and growers whose livelihoods and everything they own have been stamped out overnight.
“The fact that Cyclone Gabrielle has claimed at least 11 lives is devastating but quite honestly we’re very fortunate the toll isn’t a lot higher,” Copeland said.
The government has recently stepped up with $26 million of direct support to farmers and growers, in addition to the $25 million announced last month.
“That’s a strong response, and very welcome,” the Feds leader said, “but I think everyone – including the government – knows it’s only a step along the long path to recovery.”
Federated Farmers has been asked by a number of media outlets to put a dollar figure on rural sector losses from Cyclone Gabrielle, and Cyclone Hale before it.
“Honestly, the cost is still being counted,” Copeland said. “There will still be farms on the East Cape, for example, who haven’t been able to get out to the back of their properties to do an assessment because of destroyed access.”
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.”
Costs to the nation in terms of public infrastructure, food shortages and inflation come on top.
The severe 2004 floods provide some sort of benchmark – and bear in mind these costs are in 2004 dollars. Some of the statistics from that event: 1014 farms flood-damaged; 5000 sheep and up to 1000 dairy cattle lost; 20,000ha of farmland under water; $5.8m in losses from dumped milk (Fonterra alone); $24 million in damage to rivers; an estimated $159m-$189m damage to farms and another $200m in uninsured damage; $77m in damage to road and bridges.
Cyclone Gabrielle’s impacts are a quantum bigger. It wreaked havoc over a wider area (9 provinces vs 5) and damage to rural infrastructure seems much more severe. Horticulture businesses in particular have suffered significantly higher damage in the recent event.
In Tairawhiti, Federated Farmers Gisborne-Wairoa acting president Charlie Reynolds has made the point that restoring fencelines – critical to livestock feed management – costs around $25,000 per kilometre. There are plenty of farms in the region with 10km or more of fenceline slumped or washed away.
Another example: An apple orchard is roughly valued at about $100,000 per hectare (excluding land value). Some 2,100ha of orchards in the Hawke’s Bay alone has been destroyed or severely damaged.
Rural insurance specialist FMG is already handling more than 3000 claims from Cyclone Gabrielle.
“The sums involved, the stress on family families and the hit on production and incomes in rural areas really are horrendous,” Terry Copeland said.
“Recovery is going to be a very long haul and – quite rightly – serious questions are being asked about where, and how, to rebuild roads, bridges, rail, electricity sub-stations and other infrastructure.”