Tensions rise as farmers wait on repairs

HOOKING UP: Repair crews work on a twisted centre pivot at a Methven farm.
HOOKING UP: Repair crews work on a twisted centre pivot at a Methven farm.

The worst of the irrigators wrecked by the September windstorm have needed $500,000 worth of repairs, and as many as 15 Canterbury farmers are reaching desperation point waiting for expensive parts to arrive from overseas.

Irrigator crews working overtime believe they will have more than 80 per cent of the repairs off their books by Christmas, with one company having finished only 60 per cent.

Some of the worst-hit arable farmers remain without irrigator access to water their crops, and the last of the corner arm repairs may take until March to complete.

Irrigation New Zealand chief executive Andrew Curtis said most companies were confident they would have most of the repairs finished within the next few weeks.

"Overall, most people have some form of irrigation operating on their properties. However, we are aware of 10 to 15 people that have not. Life is getting quite tense for these people particularly.

"Many are coping on pastoral farms because they can bring in feed and manage feed, but if they are cropping farmers, they have major problems, because you cannot take a crop out and put it somewhere else."

The 20 millimetres of rain that fell on farms this week might have given some farmers a reprieve.

Repair teams are being urged to keep in close contact with farmers about their work schedules.

Complicating the situation is that there seem to be more irrigator breakdowns than normal, possibly a result of the strain they suffered during the storms.

Curtis said companies had made good progress with repairs, considering the scale of the damage, but this would be cold comfort to the farmers who needed repairs the most.

He said farmers had reported insurers dealing with claims quickly, apart from a few "awkward and obstructive" assessors.

"There is quite large money involved, and the companies are having to outlay millions of dollars to bring in parts in shipments.

"There have been a few issues, from what I have heard, of people not being as helpful as they could.

"We have jobs of $500,000-plus, and a large pivot will be in excess of that."

Farmers might end up with newer systems after the repairs, but this did not detract from the costs they had incurred from having irrigators out of commission, he said.

Some farmers have resorted to No 8 wire ingenuity to get their systems operating again. Irrigation Logistics is close to completing work on about 12 wind- damaged irrigators, and has imported nine centre pivots to replace wrecked units.

Director Kent Opie said the worst centre pivot took a week to repair.

"They have a concrete centre point with three to four tonnes of concrete, and the wind was that strong it pulled the main pivot point out of the concrete, and that was a 13-span irrigator about 600 metres long. "That's the worst case we have seen, and only four spans were standing out of 13."

Opie said his business had been fortunate to get a delivery of parts within four weeks, after engineer John Quirk spent long hours finalising a parts list for nine centre pivots. The company was moving on to new builds and servicing work, he said. New touchscreen models were allowing farmers to run centre pivots and control effluent disposal and variable rate irrigation from computers, laptops and mobile phones.

The Press