22 Apr 2023

Frustration deepens as Hawke's Bay growers await govt funding for cyclone recovery

8:26 am on 22 April 2023
A flooded orchard and apples strewn over the road just outside Hastings.

The sector could soon face widespread job losses if funding packages aren't put in place, an expert says. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

New modelling has shown it will cost Hawke's Bay horticultural businesses $1.5 billion to recover from Cyclone Gabrielle.

Consultant Gus Charteris has been working alongside growers and other recovery focused organisations to put together a framework to present to the government.

It shows the total cost at $1.5 billion dollars, but they were asking the government for $750 million.

It outlines three key areas where funding is needed: for the clean-up and recovery and removing silt; the second part is assistance to get vegetable crops planted soon so that businesses can generate cashflow and the third is help for re-establishing permanent orchards and vineyards that have been wiped out.

"There is a wide range of costs. Some growers are facing $1000 a hectare to remove silt while others are spending up to $130,000 a hectare which is well beyond the ability of grower balance sheets to be able to afford that," Charteris said.

Silt drying and cracking at Lesley Wilson's orchard on Swamp Road in Hawkes Bay after Cyclone Gabrielle

There are widespread differences in the cost of clearing silt from orchards. Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

When the government will respond to the framework was the burning question on everyone's lips at a growers' meeting in Hawke's Bay on Thursday.

"Look we've put the package in front of the government to help them form views.

"But we need those decisions, growers need those decisions to be made yesterday. They are in a really critical place right now; many of them have finished harvest and are needing to make critical decisions on next year's crop."

If growers did not get signals from the government soon the sector would see unemployment losses and that would have both economic and societal impacts, he said.

"The banks are also looking for signals from the government because they've been supporting growers through this period but they need to hear the government say that it's going to support growers as well."

Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said the government was still waiting for one comprehensive report from the Hawke's Bay Recovery Agency before making any decisions.

He acknowledged more financial help was needed but would not be drawn on any figure.

O'Connor said he will be pushing Cabinet colleagues to move quickly with financial support packages once the report was received.

He was aware timing for horticultural producers was important for crop establishment and tree planting.

So far the government has funded $78m for farmers and growers.

To help with the clean-up, growers can get $2000 a hectare to a maximum of $40,000 but some growers RNZ has spoken to said they were spending between $50,000 and $70,000 per hectare just to remove silt.

Earlier this week Horticulture New Zealand wrote to the government requesting further help.

But grower and owner of Yummy Apples Paul Paynter said an open letter was not good enough.

"The lack of advocacy is terrible, Apples and Pears, the only announcement they've made in the last two months is about the crop estimate, so I've had a grump to them about that.

"There's a lot of small growers who have lost everything - their homes, their orchards, they're living in apocalyptic wastelands and it feels like nobody's on their side."

People were walking around with their heads down, everyone was very worried about the future.

Paynter said growers needed a substantial government loan so they could start moving ahead.

Chair of New Zealand Apples and Pears Richard Punter hit back at the criticism. " We've sent numerous letters to the government asking for help," he said.

"That's on top of numerous meetings with ministers, visits from ministers so that's not an accurate portrayal of the situation.

"Having said that, I absolutely understand how they feel. The days are ticking away, people are doing things the best they can but there's been no decision from government on a proposal we put to them 60 days ago."

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