Ferocious storm cuts milk flows

MARTA STEEMAN
Last updated 05:01 24/04/2014

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Westland Milk Products may not meet a few export orders because of last week's ferocious storm.

Its general manager, quality and technical, Leo McIntyre, said the company was still assessing the impact on milk flows from farmers and the impact on how much finished product would be available for sale. But fortunately it was the tail end of the season and farmers had sold up to 95 per cent of their production.

McIntyre said milk flows had plummeted as much as 40 per cent when the storm struck but as farmers got power supply back on milk flows were rising but still 20 per cent down on two weeks ago.

"We think that will reduce the amount of product we will have available for sale and some customers may not get the product they had ordered if we haven't got the milk to make the product they require. We are still working through that. We don't think that will be too much of a problem."

The company had regular customers taking a few hundred tonnes a month.

"We're probably OK with those guys. We could miss a bit of spot business we pick up on a regular basis."

McIntyre said production of milk powder and butter might be 1000 to 2000 tonnes short.

Last year Westland Milk Products produced 108,000 tonnes of dairy products, the annual report says.

The company thought farmers' production might be 3 per cent to 5 per cent down.

But it depended on how quickly farms could recover. About 50 per cent of the almost 400 West Coast farmers supplying milk had significant damage.

It would be about 10 days before the situation on milk flows and production became clearer.

Farmers had been sharing generators between milking sheds so they could milk at least once a day.

"A lot of trees have fallen over, hedges fallen over, and damage to farm buildings as well, particularly like hay barns or implement sheds, that sort of thing. A lot of homes destroyed also," McIntyre said.

"It was like a cyclone, winds of 120 kilometres an hour and blowing for six to eight hours at a time."

The wind snapped concrete power poles in places leaving the coast with a huge infrastructure problem. Roads had had to be cleared so milk tankers could get in to farmers.

The company's dairy plant in Hokitika had not lost power nor been damaged.

McIntyre said the loss of production on farm might cut farmers' income. He did not expect the storm to have a longer term impact like a drought which had flow-on effects for months later.

The company's milk supplies manager Tony Watson said only in "a small handful of cases" did farmers have to spread milk they could not keep cool on pastures or dump it in effluent ponds.

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"The other positive is of course that communities bandied together in a way that makes the hairs on your back stand on end."

- BusinessDay

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