22 Jun 2015

Flood-hit farmers cut off by slips

2:39 pm on 22 June 2015

Farmers will be looking for an adverse event declaration from central government as they assess damage from the weekend's rainstorm, which caused widespread flooding in the west and south of the North Island.

Flooding in Waitotara valley.

Flooding in the Waitotara Valley, north of Whanganui. Photo: Supplied

Many rural communities remain isolated in Taranaki, Whanganui and Rangitikei, without power and with roads blocked by numerous slips.

Federated Farmers' Whanganui president Brian Doughty said there was a lack of information about how cut-off rural communities were faring, which he said was a concern.

"We need to have a better grip on what's actually happening in the rural community."

He said Federated Farmers, the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) and the councils would need to establish next steps to assist the agriculture industry once the weather had settled down.

"I would like MPI and whoever's in control to make a decision about what sort of event this is, and to move on that fairly quickly, so we can actually look at some assistance for farmers and for the rural community - to get out there and start doing something."

A spokesperson for the minister's office said Cabinet would be considering whether to make an adverse event declaration today.

Waitotara township

An aerial photo of the township of Waitotara, which was evacuated on Saturday. Photo: SUPPLIED

Flooded paddocks near Foxton after this weekend's rainstorm.

Flooded paddocks near Foxton after this weekend's rainstorm. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

Fonterra has activated its emergency response team and is offering help with water pumping, stock moving, temporary fencing and other measures.

A spokesperson said Fonterra was in the process of contacting all farmers in Manawatu-Rangitikei and Taranaki to see who needed help. He said area managers and staff were already on the ground, visiting worst-hit areas.

Fonterra could not yet say how many farmers have been affected.

Farmers isolated but OK

The Waitotara Valley, west of Whanganui, was among areas hit hardest by the poor weather.

The township at the bottom of the valley was evacuated over the weekend. Some people on farms further up the valley were also lifted out by helicopter after the Waitotara River burst its banks.

Diane Frewin, who lives on a farm about halfway up the valley, said there had been three other serious floods in the past decade - in 2004, 2006 and 2012 - but this flood was just about equal to an even bigger flood in 1990, when the river rose by 15 metres.

She said she had not had to move from the farm and was well-equipped to face the weather.

"We've got the generator to keep all our fridges and freezers going. We've got a gas barbecue and cook-top; we've got a wetback so it keeps our water going," she said.

"We have to have the generator going because we've got a water pump, otherwise we won't have any water."

Waitotara valley

Diane Frewin lives on a farm about halfway up the Waitotara Valley. Photo: SUPPLIED

She said they have been able to check that their neighbours were OK.

"We've been able to walk through paddocks to get to the one neighbour who got his house flooded - not too bad - they're still in the house," she said.

"We have heard that, down the road further, there were had a couple of people evacuated from their houses, and there were a couple of farmers who spent the night in tents."

Ms Frewin expected it would be about a week before the road was cleared as far as their farm, which is 37 kilometres up the Waitotara Valley.

Kevin Inskeep farms at Mangamahu, about halfway between Whanganui and Ohakune. His farm has also been cut off by slips, he said, but at least the power was back on.

"They say it's going to take about five days to get south, which is back towards Whanganui, but they are indicating that we'll be able to get out to the north, maybe within the next day, which is tomorrow.

"We've got enough supplies so that's alright and we've got power on - but we actually need a bit more fencing material to do some repairs on fences, otherwise we are going to get animals moving from paddock to paddock, where we don't want them moving, including our bulls."

Phone communications patchy

Tim Matthews, who farms between Whanganui and Hunterville, said - as well as road blockages from slips - phone communications were also a challenge.

"All the landlines are pretty much down. Some of the cell phone towers have dropped out," he said.

"It seems wireless and satellite broadband are our only form of communication at the moment, because there's not much coverage once you get away from the front country for anything like cell phones."

But, he said, stock seemed to be coping. "Most of them seem to have been cleared off the river flats as far as I can tell, with sufficient warning so that people did get a chance to move stock - but there will be the usual problem of stock getting caught in slips or marooned on little islands so they can't get out to fresh pasture."

Manawatu River at the esplanade,  Palmerston North

The flooded Manawatu River - seen from Victoria Esplanade, Palmerston North. Photo: Supplied: Keren Dittmer

Farms in Manawatu were also flooded over the weekend, with at least one farmer needing help to move stock.

Federated Farmers' president for Manawatu-Rangitikei James Stewart said one farm was 95 percent underwater and cows had to be moved to drier ground.

Mr Stewart said Federated Farmers would be meeting today to assess the extent of the damage.

"We'll be looking at making contact with all those farmers, and touching base with them, just seeing what they need," he said.

"It's really just sharing our networks together, helping with the likes of grazing, feed and resources they may need, as far as tools, diggers or people."

Mr Stewart said there had been no reports of stock losses at this stage.

Farmers that need help with access to grazing, moving stock, emergency feed, generators, large-capacity water pumps or cleaning up should ring Federated Farmers' free-phone line 0800 FARMING (0800 327 646) or the Rural Support Trust on 0800 465 220.

Anyone in a position to offer assistance with grazing should phone 0800 376 844 - or contact John Stroud, Federated Farmers Field Officer, directly on 027 217 6744 or email jstroud@fedfarm.org.nz.