Visas for irrigation specialists are being fast-tracked by Immigration New Zealand to help farmers facing summer with broken irrigators.
The September 10 nor'west storm battered rural areas across South Island, causing millions of dollars of damage, including to 800 irrigators.
It is feared a dry spring with no irrigation could reduce milk production, bring less revenue into the local economy and hit farmers in the pocket.
Several foreign specialists this week arrived in the country to help the fix the irrigators after Immigration New Zealand fast-tracked their visa applications.
Irrigation New Zealand chief executive Andrew Curtis said about 10 people would be brought into the country, mainly from South Africa and the United States, as there were not enough skilled technicians in the country.
The fast-tracked visas were great news for those "desperately awaiting" repairs, he said.
"However, we're very aware that even with overseas assistance, the picture is grim for farmers whose irrigators require complicated rebuilds.
"Some won't see irrigation before Christmas, which could reduce milk production, threaten crop viability and put pressure on stock food supplies."
Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills said farmers' livelihoods were at risk if they did not get their irrigators fixed in time for the first dry weeks of summer.
"It's critical [to get foreign workers]. This is an unprecedented disaster.
"Ideally, it would be great to have New Zealand technicians doing this sort of stuff and providing that employment, but they are buried in work already. There's no way they can keep up because it's such a massive scale of damage."
It was likely that several irrigators would not be fixed until next year if they did not get extra workers, he said.
Rainer Irrigation assistant manager Lucas Cawte said the workload generated by the storm's severity far exceeded the company's resources for a quick turnaround.
Overseas staff would significantly reduce downtime for farmers, he said.
The company welcomed four South African specialist pivot technicians this week to help with the backlog of broken irrigators and would stay until early December.
"The turnaround was about 24 hours and our guys are now here. That's unheard of," Cawte said.
Farmers had been understanding as they knew the scale of repairs the industry was facing, he said.
Immigration New Zealand's assistant Christchurch area manager, Steve Jones, said the department was happy to fast-track the applications.
"We consider requests for urgent processing on a case-by-case basis and, where there are compelling reasons, we will prioritise the processing of applications lodged. This was clearly a situation where time was of the essence and we agreed to prioritise applications accordingly," Jones said.
As well as the four South Africans, two visas for Americans have been issued and another four are expected to be lodged soon.
- © Fairfax NZ News