Isolated farmers begin dumping milk

BRANDON SPARROW IN COLLINGWOOD
Last updated 13:00 16/12/2011

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Dairy farmers west of Collingwood will be starting to pour milk onto their paddocks today as the economic impact of a severe washout on State Highway 60 bites.

However, the closure of the highway has brought a stampede of customers to Collingwood General Store as locals and tourists stock up on food, fearing a long isolation from the town's usual supply routes.

One Collingwood business, Healthpost Ltd, resorted to a Google search yesterday to find a suitable alternative route around Bird's Hill to get its product out to its customers.

Co-general manager Lucy Butler said the company had looked at flying the product out but the weather and logistics had prevented it.

Instead, two employees were able to load 400 Courier Post parcels into a four-wheel-drive utility and – after being guided down a track by a landowner – deliver them to the Courier Post driver in Takaka.

Ms Butler said the company, which sells mail-order health and personal care products, would have a "skeleton" staff today as some of the staff lived in Takaka.

In Collingwood's main street yesterday residents were stoical about the town being physically severed from the world. Dolomite factory worker Barry Wigzell said the town could only be truly cut off "if we don't have a helicopter or boat". "We'll get around it."

However, the closure has inconvenienced former rest home worker Julie Riordan, who was due to move to the North Island. She was booked on the Cook Strait ferry tomorrow but would now have to change the booking.

New manager at the Collingwood General Store, Tasma McNabb, said the store ran out of milk and bread yesterday but had started making its own bread to sell.

Miss McNabb said the store had been "flat out" with customers – both locals and tourists – stocking up as no-one knew how long the highway would be closed and supply trucks unable to get to the town. "Luckily we had stocked up with supplies ourselves just a few days ago."

The closure has badly affected Collingwood business Farewell Spit Eco Tours with customers cancelling and uncertainty about the duration of the closure threatening further bookings.

Manager Paddy Gillooly said trips over the next three days had all been cancelled and it was difficult for the company to take more bookings as "we don't know when the road will be fixed".

He said the closure has "echoes from last year" when a huge flood hit the Collingwood area just after Christmas and affected business.

Dairy farmer Alan Palmer, who farms at Onekaka, midway between Takaka and Collingwood, said he would start emptying his vat today because Fonterra's milk tankers were unable to collect milk. "We produce 6000 litres a day so that could be a lot of milk."

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He and wife Shelley were enduring another setback yesterday. The couple also had no household water as the supply from a nearby valley had been damaged by heavy rain.

Rockville farmer Campbell Dixon said Fonterra had told farmers to empty their vats once they were full. "On two of our farms that will be tonight."

He said Fonterra would cover the farms' financial losses, as it did last year when the big flood disrupted operations, but it was still sad to see milk wasted.

"A lot of work goes into producing it and to send it into storage ponds and on to the paddocks, we are never happy to see that."

- The Nelson Mail

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