Cold rains bring death to East Coast farms

Debris blocks the access road to Garth McVicar's Te Pohue farm after a culvert blew out.

Debris blocks the access road to Garth McVicar's Te Pohue farm after a culvert blew out.


Hawke's Bay farmers still in the middle of lambing are counting the costs of this week's rain deluge.

More than 400mm of cold rain fell at Trelinnoe, the Te Pohue property farmed by former Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills and his brother Scott. They started lambing the day before the rain began.

Sheep under rescue: It was all hands on deck as Luke Read and his dogs moved sheep to safe ground at Ngatapa, Gisborne. ...

Sheep under rescue: It was all hands on deck as Luke Read and his dogs moved sheep to safe ground at Ngatapa, Gisborne. The sheep were on a finishing property of Dan Jex Blake, Mangapoike Station when the Waikakariki Stream burst its banks.

"There is hardly a lamb surviving," Bruce Wills said. "It's not good … finding it hard to find a live lamb anywhere. It's frustrating and annoying to do all the work all year and then, flipping heck, Mother Nature comes and does her thing.

"A week ago we were talking drought. On our country once we get 350mm, even with all of our 15,000 trees and all our good work, Mother Nature takes over."

Trelinnoe has 2100 ewes and 340 breeding cows.

"We've still got a couple of weeks of lambing to go so hopefully the poor old ewes keep their lambs wrapped up nice and warm inside and we get the rest of them born into sunshine. It's so wet and cold we're losing calves as well.  Normally they're tough enough."

Hawke's Bay Regional Council rainfall figures for the week to 9am on Friday make sombre reading with four weather stations recording more than 400mm.

The gauge at Te Pohue on SH5 recorded 406mm while the Ngahere gauge, just west of Te Pohue, had 476mm. Pukeorapa Station at Nuhaka in northern Hawke's Bay received 442mm with 398mm west of Onga Onga in Central Hawke's Bay.

All of the 63 weather stations recorded falls of more than 100mm. Half were more than 200m and 15 of those were more than 300mm in a band down the ranges and also in the coastal areas.

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The rain  was welcomed by many farmers who had been facing a dry introduction to summer after low spring moisture levels. But the timing has been shocking for those still lambing.

Hamish de Lautour's mixed-age ewes were just getting into the thick of lambing when the rain started falling in Central Hawke's Bay.

He said they had received up to 200mm, not the volume of rain as some other districts, but it was cold.

"Absolutely freezing, probably below freezing, with lambs dying within half an hour of being born if you can't get to them. That's tough, but….  I know some people had 170 to 300mm losing lambs that are a week old. We're not in that boat."

He intentionally lambed with two different dates to spread the risk. His Te Whangai Romney Stud at Flemington, south of Waipukurau, bred for survivability, but the weather was "pushing the boundaries".

"We're counting the damage. It's disheartening but it also hasn't happened for a number of years.

Being such a strong El Nino, which brings unpredictable weather, I know looking at the last 10 El Nino events only three of them have been dry. The Met Service wasn't expecting us to be dry before Christmas, so guess they were right about that…"

Malcolm White, farming at Puketitiri inland from Napier, said he was grateful for the rain, although "we would happily have shared half of it with our farming fellows in North Canterbury".

The rain brought down debris and washed out a culvert on the access road to Garth McVicar's Riverlands Station north of Te Pohue.  He said he hadn't seen rain like this for years.

"It's just the sheer volume in a short time. The country can't handle it."

A former contractor, McVicar's infrastructure held up till Wednesday and then the culvert blew on McVicar Rd, the farm's only access to State Highway Five, the Napier-Taupo road, at Tarawera.

"We needed the rain but we could have handled it spread out a bit more. We had similar amounts of rain here during Cyclone Bola but not the damage. It has taken out our whole water system. "

Hawke's Bay Regional Council land management advisor Peter Manson, based at Wairoa, said inland farms had received around 200mm of rain between Saturday evening and Monday afternoon, with coastal properties receiving about 150mm. Silt, wood debris and damaged fences were main issues.

Sheep, beef and mixed cropping farmer Dave Martin at Awamate, near Frasertown, had 35ha underwater until the Wairoa River bar was opened on Monday afternoon.

"I have a lot of debris in fences and two to three inches of silt," he said.

"We've been getting ready for cropping so we've lost a lot of top soil that had been disced." We had 130mm of rain over two days but it was everyone else's rain coming down the river that caused the issues for us.We heard of some who got 250mm in that one day and it all has to come down past us."

He said the rain was well forecast and they had plenty of warning to move stock to higher ground.

"We also shifted what equipment and infrastructure to the top out of the way of the water as well."

Whangara farm manager Rob Kirkpatrick says they had 140mm of rain. "We really needed it, but not in two days."

Further north, Sam Hain from Waikura Station at Pehiri, Gisborne, said they had flooding at the main farm and also at their lower Te Karaka property at the start of the week with the rivers rising for a second time on Thursday night. The rain was welcome but the deluge was unexpected following their dry spring.

Whangara farm manager Rob Kirkpatrick said they had 140mm of rain. "We really needed it, but not in two days."

Farmers in Hawke's Bay and Gisborne  should be set up for at least a month with good grass growth when the sun shines.

 - Stuff

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