By LIAM DANN
Early estimates of $100 million in flood damage in the lower North Island are likely to fall well short of the mark.
Sheep and beef farmers alone face at least $50 million in clean-up costs.
That figure, from Meat New Zealand economists yesterday, excludes far greater losses still to be counted on the low-lying dairy and crop farms worst affected by the floods.
In the first detailed damage estimate given, Meat New Zealand has calculated the cost of insurable losses for homes, buildings, contents and machinery at $16 million.
Uninsured losses for fence and track repair, pasture restoration and removal of fallen trees will total $32 million.
The estimate accounts only for sheep and beef farms in the western part of the flood zone. Damage in eastern areas is still to be calculated.
Meat and Wool Economic Service executive director Rob Davison said the initial $50 million estimate indicated the bill for flood damage to all farms in the region could top $200 million.
Meat New Zealand spokesman Jeff Grant said livestock losses for sheep and beef farms had been relatively light, and the overall effect on production would not be too severe.
"There are exceptions to this, and we have great sympathy for the farms that have been worst hit," he said.
In general, low-lying dairy and crop farms had been hit harder, Grant said.
It is believed that about 20 per cent of the national potato crop has been lost, and other valuable export crops such as squash, pumpkin and onions are badly affected.
Meat New Zealand estimates that one in 10 sheep and beef farms in the region from South Taranaki to Horowhenua have been severely affected. About a third suffered moderate damage.
Farms on the eastern side of the ranges, from Tararua to South Wairarapa, were also affected by heavy rain and wind damage but that damage has not yet been calculated.
"The enormity of the clean-up is only just sinking in," Grant said. "Basic operations become major problems - how do you get to livestock and move them to find feed when there are no fences and the ground is water-logged?"
It would take many farms three or more years to fully recover.
Richmond chief executive Richard Carver said stock losses would not have a severe economic effect on meat exports.
The disaster was not expected to have any effect on the company's profit.
Richmond, one of the country's largest meat processors, buys most of its animals from lower North Island suppliers.
The biggest effect for the company had been the flood damage to its processing plants, Carver said.
The Waitotara plant near Wanganui and the Shannon plant in Manawatu were still closed.
Two plants in Hawkes Bay had also been slowed by gas and power shortages during the storms.
Carver said the disruption to production was costing money.
But the company was insured for these events, and those costs would not flow through to Richmond's bottom line.
"That's what we pay the insurance for," he said.
* Richmond said yesterday that it had been unable to sell the Waitotara lamb processing plant to Canterbury Meat Packers, despite an extended due diligence period.
"It is disappointing," Carver said, "that after all this effort both parties have failed to reach agreement."
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By LIAM DANN