15 Jul 2014

Storm-hit farmers to get support

9:38 pm on 15 July 2014

A Northland farmer whose land has been badly flooded following last week's fierce storm has described the region as a red zone.

Ben Smith has a dairy farm in the Hikurangi Swamp area near Whangarei and says about 70 hectares of land he feeds his cows on is under water, while properties on either side of his are up to 90 percent flooded.

Hikurangi Swamp is one of the hardest hit areas in Northland.

Hikurangi Swamp is one of the hardest hit areas in Northland. Photo: SUPPLIED

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy says the storm has damaged about 80 percent of the upper North Island region's primary sector. On Tuesday, he declared it a medium-scale adverse event, which provides a framework for more Government support and triggers help for farmers.

Mr Guy said the storm could not have come at a worse time, with calving beginning and avocado crops close to being harvested. He said it has been a tough blow for many farmers in western parts of Northland who suffered through a prolonged drought earlier this year.

The minister said 5000 hectares of pasture is under water and many farmers will have to make some challenging decisions to get through.

"One of those of course is talking to their bank - can they extend their overdraft, how much is it going to require, what does this mean on their bottom line. All of those big decisions, they're going to need the likes of Rural Support Trust to help farmers get through what is a very challenging time."

Mr Guy said he would be kept updated on any requests for Government assistance which could include helping with the clean-up, tax flexibility arrangements or financial hardship assistance.

Ben Smith said any help they can get, even if it is social support, would be a start. He is putting immediate costs of the effects of the storm in the Hikurangi Swamp farmland area, including re-grassing, at over $7 million.

Federated Farmers' Northland provincial president Roger Ludbrook earlier said farmers were hoping that Nathan Guy would declare a medium-scale adverse event.

"One of the things it does (is) trigger an opportunity to use Task Force Green workers when water recedes, to help clean up your farm. They are a real godsend to you when you are in that position."

Mr Ludbrook said Moerewa and Kawakawa, the Hikurangi Swamp and Ruawai had been hardest hit. "(Some farmers), like those in Hikurangi, are in for a long hard haul, they could be underwater for a few more days, so they are going to be feeling a bit despondent."

Tax relief for farmers

Revenue Minister Todd McClay said on Tuesday that Inland Revenue would offer flood-affected farmers in Northland tax relief.

Mr McClay said the Government recognises that it is a difficult time for many in the region as they come to terms with the damage caused by recent severe weather events.

The assistance will come through the IRD's income equalisation scheme, which allows farmers to put aside money from a better year and withdraw against a not so good year.

The department will relax the rules by allowing late deposits from the 2014 tax year to be made up to April the 30th 2015. It will also allow early refunds.

Mr McClay said assistance is designed to make the coming months easier as people deal with damage to their farms.

Overall bill in the millions

The acting mayor of the Far North, Sally Macauley, said the final repair bill from the severe weather was certain to be in the millions of dollars because it has left many roads damaged, as well as a big clean-up job for farmers.

"As I drove to Whangarei yesterday I viewed the farmlands - you would consider yourself driving past Lake Taupo."

Civil Defence Minister Nikki Kaye on Monday announced the Government was contributing $100,000 to the mayoral relief fund.

Northland Regional Council chairman Bill Shepherd said while it was a big help for some communities, it needed to be kept in perspective.

"The mayoral relief fund deals with families and households, it does not deal with the businesses that have been closed down, or farms that have been flooded ... or damaged houses, buildings or vehicles."