Josh Cozens describes the April 6 flood as having a huge impact on farmers with repercussions that are ongoing today.

After hearing the town was being evacuated that Thursday morning, Cozens left his Otakiri home to collect his three children who were with their grandparents in Edgecumbe.

Once they were safe, Cozens commandeered a tractor from a nearby farmer and started helping people who were trapped in their homes.

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"We must have been rescuing people for maybe three or four hours," Cozens said.

"Residents were panicking and pretty disorientated, many were worried about pets."

He said kids in homes was the biggest concern. "Because the school was closed there were a lot of kids trapped in houses. A number of people who had tried to go back and gather belongings had also ended up trapped and we had to go in and get them."

The day after the flood and alongside a number of local farmers, Cozens help load more than 2000 head of stock on to trucks.

"I think there were over 3000 eventually taken out of the area."

Friday night was spent sandbagging the back of farms on Greig Rd near Thornton - that's how far it went.

"We had people telling us it was a waste of time but we'd turn up to a place and there'd be 50-odd farmers, tractors, hay bales were being stacked for retaining walls.

"It was kind of the next day you'd get sent a picture of what you'd done saying it worked, the water would be halfway up the bales as opposed to covering the next farm."


Cozens said it was a huge team effort by farmers. "It was through Fonterra - you'd get a text saying we need people here and that's where we went."

That included laying 700 tonnes of rock into the Hydro Rd spillway before the second predicted cyclone.

"Contractors had been given the job but they just didn't have the manpower."

On Saturday April 8, when the Edgecumbe township was still cordoned and underwater, the pumping began – a task spearheaded by Bay of Plenty Regional Council staff and largely carried out by farmers from the Rangitaiki Plains.

"Local farmers lent tractors and pumps and manned stations, Fonterra staff [because the factory was closed] fuelled and manned pumps, extra pumps were trucked in from other regions, there was a pumping crew that came up from Palmerston North – they drove their tractors with pumps through the night to get to Edgecumbe.

"It was insane that so many people could work together so smoothly when you'd expect it to be chaotic and under pressure. I think it was the right group of people – the old heads like Barefoot who walked away from his own farm and livelihood that was covered in water, and was waist-deep in water working a pump to drain the town.

"I got a call because someone had got wind of the fact I used to work for Jim 'Barefoot' Richardson," Cozens said.

Barefoot is an Edgecumbe farmer and also builder of things mechanical – including two large pumps he had constructed for the regional council.

"It was this amazingly co-ordinated affair, you'd arrive and check the whiteboard which would tell you where the pump was, whose tractor was hooked up to it and who was manning it.

"It was insane that so many people could work together so smoothly when you'd expect it to be chaotic and under pressure. I think it was the right group of people."

The combined pumps discharged 5000l per second which was about 0.4 million cubic metres of water per day. The pumping was done in the background but consumed thousands of man hours and more than $80,000 of diesel.

According to Cozens, the farming community went above and beyond what was expected.

"But I guess most of the stuff that was done wasn't negotiable, it just had to be done so everyone got together and did it. It was something I was proud to be part of."

He says effects of the flood are still being felt – 12 months on.

"There are farms carrying less stock than before April 6, and many are still recovering from the loss of productivity at the time. Cows had to be dried off early as they were trucked to other farms, there was a loss of feed – it was pretty bloody tough on farmers."

Last month Cozens was crowned Waikato/Bay of Plenty Young farmer of the Year and in July will go to Invercargill to compete against six regional winners for the national title.