15 Oct 2013

Spring storms testing farmer morale

7:00 am on 15 October 2013

The savage spring storms sweeping the country have been putting farmer morale to the test.

Gale-force winds moving up the country on Monday knocked out power and caused widespread disruption to transport networks from Canterbury to the southern North Island. As well, the West Coast was hit with near-horizontal rain and flooding.

For Canterbury farmers and foresters, it's the second ferocious battering they've taken in just over a month.

Chris Allen, who farms inland from Ashburton, says areas near or in the foothills have had the worst of it this time. "A lot of bigger, older trees seem to have gone over this time," he says. "The wind has come from a slightly different angle and some of those trees that stood gracefully in the last wind have copped it this time.

"Another thing is, in the last five weeks we've had quite a bit of rain. The ground's a little bit softer, so that hasn't helped the trees anchoring."

Mr Allen lost about 20 trees in the last storm but on Monday more than 80 fell - and they were big ones that had been there for 50-odd years.

The wind also damaged irrigators on some farms again, including an irrigation system on one farm that had just been repaired after the last storm.

Forget about afternoon milking

Federated Farmers' adverse events spokesperson, Katie Milne, lost the power to her West Coast dairy farm and, like many farmers in the region, gave up any thought of trying to do the afternoon milking because the weather was too wild.

"The driving rain is too tough on cows to walk them into it to get them into the shed," Ms Milne says.

"From time to time in the spring, when we get these nasty storms, it's just easier not to milk in the afternoon because it's just unpleasant for everybody - man and beast - and the animals don't want to be there.

"So it's just as easy to pick them up in the morning when the driving stuff is gone and they'll perform normally then."

Ms Milne says some farmers having to deal with the spring storms after the summer drought will be just about at the end of their tether.

"The areas that keep getting hit, like Canterbury...it's starting to be a little bit monotonous and fairly frustrating, if you've cleared up the fencelines and the messes and so on from fallen trees, and you've had your power out again and again. It certainly gets to be demoralising."

Farmers have no choice but to carry on but do so with falling morale and rising stress, Ms Milne says. She urges those farmers to look after themselves, and neighbours to keep an eye out for them, "because sometimes it gets to be too much, eventually".