1 Oct 2021

Flood costs farming couple $1m as recovery grinds on

11:28 am on 1 October 2021

It's been four months since the Ashburton District was slammed with a one-in-200-year flood and still the clean up continues.

Laurence Rooney's tractor on the waterlogged farm.

Laurence Rooney's tractor on the waterlogged farm in early June. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

With most of the $4 million in government help now accounted for, some farmers are pleading with Wellington to come up with more.

Close to half of the dairy farm run by Laurence and Philippa Rooney was smothered in two metres of gravel and silt when the Ashburton River burst its banks in May.

"The whole farm was under water, the water went through our house. It's pretty pretty bad, but nobody died, I suppose [so] it could have been worse, but it was pretty awful."

Laurence Rooney's beer shed.

Laurence Rooney's beer shed. Photo: Katie Todd

The last of the debris was finally cleared just a few days ago, allowing the paddocks to be sewn with fresh grass seed.

But they wouldn't be able to get cows back on there until Christmas at the earliest.

Philippa Rooney estimated they had lost $1 million in revenue through only being able to have half their normal herd on the property, which had blown their plans for this year out of the water.

"Because we were going to buy the farm from my parents this year. We were in a pretty good financial position to be honest and then it all turned around and backfired really.

"We worked really hard. We got up at three o'clock every morning. We've got four kids. We worked our butts off last year and [we haven't got] much to show for it, to be honest."

While insurance covered repairs to their home, the rest was mostly up to them to sort out.

With a bill coming of $500,000 to remove the tonnes of gravel and silt deposited on their property, the Rooneys were hopeful of some support from the government's $4m assistance fund, but this had not happened.

"We've got approved for an amount that I think my kids got more in their piggy banks to be honest than they've approved us for. We were the worst hit and we didn't even get 20 percent of what we applied for.

"Something's not quite right there, it's a bit of a kick in the head really."

Millions to be spent in remediation

Federated Farmers mid-Canterbury president David Clark said that so far the fund, which could cover up to half the cost of fixing flood damage, had worked well.

But he said it would take up to two years before some of the worst-affected farms were back up and running at 100 percent.

"There are some properties that have still got significant areas of shingle to be removed. And some of them those shingle removal bills are going to run into hundreds of millions of dollars. One property I know of - that's got 20 or 30 kilometres of fence to be built."

Flooding in Ashburton Forks area and damage to approach to bridge over south branch Ashburton River

Flooding in the Ashburton Forks area and damage to the approach to the bridge over the south branch of the Ashburton River. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

With only a quarter of the fund left to allocate, he said more money could well be needed from the government down the track to help get the job finished.

"The Prime Minister [Jacinda Ardern made it very clear when she met with us] immediately after the flood and announced the $4 million package that it was a start and there would be more money available. I took that in good faith.

"So we will wait to see whether we need to go back to the prime minister to get her to follow through on that."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Ashburton on Chris Allen's farm.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Ashburton on Chris Allen's farm. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said it was too soon to say if more money would be needed or if the government would be willing to hand it over.

"I'm not aware of any particular requests to me or to anyone else for claims that haven't gone through. I'm sure some of them haven't been paid.

"But I'm hoping that the local committee that is distributing this money is making a fair judgement on those people who need assistance to get back up and running."

Many said the floods were made worse by the failure of the regional council to remove gravel from the bed of the Ashburton River.

Clark said unless the council and the wider community came up with a plan to finally take this gravel out of the river, they could very well be hit by bad flooding again.

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