Storm damages over 800 Canterbury irrigators

TIPPED OVER: An irrigator in South Canterbury lies on its side after being rolled over by strong winds.
TIPPED OVER: An irrigator in South Canterbury lies on its side after being rolled over by strong winds.

More than 800 irrigators across Canterbury could be out of action after Tuesday's big wind.

Irrigation New Zealand chief executive Andrew Curtis said the extent of damage to centre pivots and other irrigators across the region was unprecedented.

"This is an extremely serious situation as we simply don't have enough parts to repair all of these machines in New Zealand," he said.

"We're looking at a six to eight-week time lag before parts arrive and then a similar time frame before repairs can be completed.

"If we experience a dry spring, the consequences could be dire for many Canterbury farmers as irrigation will effectively be stymied."

Rainer Irrigation owner Gavin Briggs said his company was aware of 260 centre pivot spans lying on the ground and another 30 pivots that had lost key components.

The situation was "a logistical nightmare".

"It's actually quite serious even though we're still a couple of weeks away from the irrigation season starting," he said.

"Many farmers don't have backup systems for effluent and were relying on centre pivots to do the job. It's a disaster."

Rainer Irrigation had ordered parts from overseas suppliers but it could be 60 to 90 days before they arrived.

The company usually employed 30 staff at this time of the year for irrigation repairs, but would double that in coming months. Seven cranes were working this week to lift damaged equipment.

Briggs said irrigation systems close to rivers suffered the most damage as the wind had funnelled through them.

While insurance claims would take a while to resolve, his company and others in the industry would move as quickly as possible to repair irrigation infrastructure "because it's our clients' livelihood and there's a fair bit of unhappiness out there".

The damage was unusual and was the result of the winds coming from several directions according to Federated Farmers adverse events spokeswoman Katie Milne.

"Normally you point them downwind and the wind will just blow down them and there's no damage," she said, while confirming that getting parts to fix the irrigation systems would be a massive problem.

"If they can't get all those up and running reasonably quickly, and they're not going to be able to, I've heard it could be right through to November before everyone is catered to."

If there were northwesterly winds in Canterbury, she said, the Canterbury Plains were going to look as dry as they used to before many of the dairy farms were irrigated.

On top of the damage, many farms remained without power and could be so for several more days which could have serious implications for dairy cows.

"It's pretty critical they get those girls in and get them milked, and get water pumped around, especially cows with big bags of milk on need big volumes of water to keep them going," Federated Farmers adverse events spokeswoman Katie Milne told RadioLive.

If the cows were not milked for a lengthy period they would eventually dry off, she said.

"We do have quite a few days before that will happen, but they're going to be severely uncomfortable."

Farmers would be trying to get them milked at least once a day, or twice in three days, it they could borrow a generator to do that.

"It's because we've got so much infrastructure damage to the power lines, the power could be out for five days for some of these guys," she said.

Federated Farmers had received a good response to a request for generators, and was now organising to get them to the farmers who needed them.

POWER CUT: Snapped power poles in South Canterbury close to Fonterra's Clandeboye dairy factory.
POWER CUT: Snapped power poles in South Canterbury close to Fonterra's Clandeboye dairy factory.

Stuff