21 Aug 2014

Northland farmers 'severely affected'

3:33 pm on 21 August 2014

A Northland dairy farmer says the future is bleak for many in the industry in the region, particularly farm workers, after recent flooding, a fall in the milk payout and increased local rates.

Flooding at Hukerenui, Northland.

Hukerenui in Northland was one of many areas affected by poor weather earlier this year. Photo: Northland Regional Council

Ben Smith, who farms on the Hikurangi Swamp, had up to 70 percent of his farm covered in flood water last month, and it has taken until now to clear.

Heavy rain on Tuesday night caused further surface flooding.

Ben Smith said the toll of adverse weather events and financial pressure on farmers would have a long-term effect on dairying in Northland.

"There will be a number of farmers in the north severely affected at the moment. My biggest concern is the impact it's having on farm staff, because they're at a low, with the extreme level of pressure, physically, and the mental strain from knowing that the owners are struggling so much."

Mr Smith said it would force some people out of farming.

"It certainly will. That's a definite call at the moment. We've got real estate agents talking up the north, throughout the country, trying to say things are cheaper up here," he said.

"Of course, the financial pressure that a lot of people are on will see a lot more properties on the market, due to the diminishing returns and the severe weather outlook."

The cost to farmers had been high since since the July floods Hukerenui farmer Evan Sneath said.

"On our farm it is probably costing us about $1500 a hectare for every hectare lost and we have about 40-hectares we have to regrass."

Federated Farmers Northland president Roger Ludbrook agreed some farmers in the region could be in danger of going under financially.

This week's deluge was another massive setback after the estimated tens of millions of dollars of damage in the July floods and a lower-than-expected dairy payout.

"If you are one of those farmers with a big debt burden and you're facing this situation which is so extreme ... combine that with potentially a one dollar drop in your payout, then maybe there will be some people who because of this event who could lose their farm."

However, Northland Rural Support Trust head Julie Jonker said the cleanup in the area after the July flood is progressing well.

"The Taskforce Green crews are doing really good work and the feed back from farmers that the cleanup is going quite well".

The trust has been able to co-ordinate farmer needs following the floods, she said.

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