11 Apr 2017

Quake creates new opportunities from loss for Ward farmer

7:09 am on 11 April 2017

A third generation farmer in Ward, who lost his home in last November's quake, has chosen to see it as an opportunity to change the way he lives and farms.

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Tony West's solar-powered energy systems were damaged in the quake, but were still operating. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Tony West, whose family now lives in a caravan on the property, said the sudden isolation had prompted a change in land management practises and had forced investment in equipment he had wanted for a while.

The magnitude 7.8 quake destroyed the family's 10-year-old home in a flash, and stock dropped dead in fright.

Mr West said the force threw his two cars out through the garage doors, knocked out windows and bi-fold doors, and the kitchen was almost pushed through the side of the house.

"The house is broken in two major parts."

He said despite his years working overseas in disaster areas, he had not known an earthquake could cause such damage.

"Walking in the moonlit night straight after it was like a dream, I was thinking, 'it just isn't real'."

Mr West's parents' home 800 metres away was also badly damaged, having only just been repaired after the 2013 Seddon earthquake.

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Tony West's caravan home Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

He has now parked a caravan on his property, and was able to plug into the home's wind and solar-powered energy systems that were damaged but were still operating.

Mr West said the quake has changed things in ways he could never have predicted - such as the closure of State Highway 1, which he said had turned the highway from Blenheim to Kaikōura into New Zealand's biggest cul-de-sac.

He said there was now so little traffic everyone waves as they drive past.

Urgent decisions that related to the family's future in the area had been needed straight after the quake, and others had been made to keep the business going.

"One example is fertiliser. We were getting it from Hornby in Christchurch for $27 a tonne, delivered, and now it's $65 a tonne. So we've decided for the next year or so before the road is open, we'll go ahead and put a lot more lime on rather than superphosphate and other acidic fertilisers. We've used that as an opportunity to buy a new big spreader."

The 260-hectare farm runs traditional Marlborough corriedale sheep. Until recently it also grazed dairy herds, but that income stream has been lost by the road closure, as the stock came from Kaikōura.

Mr West said some support networks had worked well, such as MPI's 0800 farming number, and the government's quake relief fund, but other things could have worked better. He said the Marlborough District Council, which was helpful to begin with, seemed to have faded into the background.

Mr West believed the mayoral relief fund set up post-quake should be there to help those still without a home, and to support building costs he expected would be a lot higher than people predict.

He was now forging ahead with plans to re-build his hilltop home, having got in early to settle insurance matters. He urged farmers coping with damage that a step towards recovery was dropping the "to do" list.

"Obviously you prioritise things like you did before, but more importantly you have to accept that things are never going to be the same as what they were before.

"If you are proud of your fences and the condition of your land... I'll never resolve these problems in my lifetime, even if I was only 20-years-old.

"You just have to accept it's not going to be the same again, and that's the way it is."

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