Will it be better late than never?
Having waited two weeks for a response from the Minister for the Environment David Parker - about receiving Resource Management Act (RMA) relief to conduct essential flood-recovery work - Federated Farmers got a letter on Tuesday.
In it, the minister essentially told Federated Farmers national president Andrew Hoggard he’d heard his concerns, but little had been decided.
Federated Farmers had sought legislative change, citing the Hurunui/Kaikoura Earthquakes Emergency Relief Act of 2016, to build temporary bridges and access routes across the Hawke’s Bay hinterland.
Some Hawke’s Bay farmers have been unable to access the outside world, let alone get to stranded stock, since Cyclone Gabrielle hit.
Hawke’s Bay Federated Farmers president Jim Galloway said after three weeks, morale and supplies are low, and animals need to be taken off a number of farms ahead of winter.
That’s impossible while roads and bridges remain impassable, leading rural communities to do their own remedial work without RMA approval.
“And someone has come along with a clipboard and said ‘oh no [you can’t do that]’ and that’s really disappointing,” Galloway said.
“Because, without being able to get out and get your groceries or your fly-strike spray and dip for your sheep, it adds a whole lot of stress for people.”
Hoggard wrote to Parker on February 20, with the minister’s reply stating that he “acknowledged” the difficulties faced by Hawke’s Bay farmers and orchardists and their wish for legislative change.
“The Government is working quickly to ensure that we can put in place appropriate measures to help people rebuild and recover following the devastation. Since the receipt of your letter, Hon Grant Robertson has been appointed in the role of Minister for Cyclone Recovery, and a cyclone recovery cabinet committee and task force established,” Parker wrote.
A “cross-government” group are looking at amendments to the RMA, but have yet to make a decision. That group includes the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI).
“MPI’s initial feedback on potential issues mirror those you have raised,” said Parker.
“This includes the need to enable the rebuild of infrastructure [including roading, farm tracks, farm buildings and fences, water infrastructure such as that needed for irrigation, local storage, drinking water for stock] and the need to provide for waste disposal such as silt and slash.
“The group are working through next steps including engagement with affected groups, both regionally and nationally, to ensure local voices are heard and acted on.”
Unfortunately, Galloway indicated that the needs of Hawke’s Bay farmers are more immediate than that.
Weaners are due at the stockyards and sheep at the freezing works. Others need to come off farms for finishing, in order to preserve winter feed.
With some farms having lost as much as 20 per cent of their land to slips, grass will be a precious commodity too, Galloway said.
Hawke’s Bay primary producers had already endured challenging summers before the cyclone.
“Financially, it could potentially cripple people because a lot of the damage is uninsurable,” Galloway said.
Such is the scale of that damage to farms and orchards “that a couple of hundred thousand dollars won’t go far” either. It will be well into seven-figures in parts.
“There will be some that may think ‘do I want to repair it’ or will they sell it to someone else? But then the asset value might also decrease, so you’re caught in a real catch-22,” Galloway said.