Farmer digs fields out from under sea of mud

CHARLOTTE SQUIRE
Last updated 13:47 16/12/2013
mudland
CHARLOTTE SQUIRE / Fairfax NZ

IN THE CLEAR: Wainui Bay farm assistant Rongomai Ruakere stands on a truck that was submerged up to its windows in landslide mud during the 2011 floods in Golden Bay.

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Two years after his Wainui Bay farm was ravaged by landslides Mike Robertson says he's feeling "quite good, actually".

Though he has certainly come through some "bad patches", including some burnout after working seven days a week for months on end to clean up his family farm, Robertson says the pressure's easing.

In December 2011 his 430-hectare Golden Bay dairy farm suffered dozens of landslides, covering it in up to five metres of mud, and trapping 300 cows.

At the time Mr Robertson refused to allow himself to focus on the destruction, preferring to get on with the job and saying, "You don't really have time to get caught up in the emotion of it. If you let it get you down, you just turn it into a bigger job than it is.

"Most people on the land are made of similar stuff. You just knuckle down and do your best. You've got so much invested in it," he said.

The fact that the farm had been in his family since the 1800s meant the land meant too much for Mr Robertson to simply walk away.

While it once seemed impossible to bring permanent workers back, especially because money was tight, he's recently taken on fulltime farm assistant Rongomai Ruakere.

Part-time "jack of all trades" farmhand Ross Vickery worked for Mr Robertson from six months after the floods, doing most of the tractor work and reseeding.

"We've just done another lot of work in the paddocks that were scoured out by the river when it was flooding, we've used spoil off the Wainui Hill to level it out," Mr Robertson said.

He says it'll be another two years until his farm is back to "somewhere near how it was".

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