Salty sea flood kills off farmers’ livelihood
The salt water that swept through the Seabird Coast missed Sheryl McPherson’s house.
But it washed over half her farm and wrecked the pasture, leaving her with a whole lot of questions and hungry cattle.
The high water flooded Kaiaua, just north of where McPherson farms, and wrecked more than two kilometres of Thames Coast Road on the other side of the firth.
Civil Defence Minister Kris Faafoi surveyed the damage in both spots on Tuesday.
The storm fallout is tough for McPherson, who took over from her parents on the East Coast Road farm in 2000.
‘‘It’s just so different to a normal flood,’’ McPherson said. ‘‘It just burned all the grass because it’s salt water and the silt and the mud that’s in the water. It’s just a tacky layer across everywhere ... I don’t know what’s going to happen, whether the grass will grow. No-one can tell us.
‘‘Friday and Saturday, it’s sort of adrenaline. Sunday, reality kicked in.’’
About 12 low-lying farms in the Kaiaua and Miranda area are affected, according to Federated Farmers.
One of them has 100 per cent pasture damage, Hauraki-Coromandel province president Kevin Robinson said.
McPherson has about 40 hectares of flat land and about 25 of those were submerged in the flood.
The roar of the water drew McPherson and her husband down to their letterbox on Friday morning.
Cattle ended up swimming and had to be progressively moved to higher ground and later, from her kitchen, McPherson saw a wall of water come from Kaiaua.
Since the flood, she’d been feeding the cattle anything and everything - silage, willow tree cuttings.
It was a struggle to feed the mix of yearling steers, yearling heifers and weaner calves.
Many of them were handreared, she said - and it brought a tear to her eye.
‘‘When they’re calling out because they’re hungry - that’s not what we became farmers for.
‘‘You’re supposed to be able to feed them and look after them.’’
On Monday, a visit from Civil Defence and the Rural Support Trust was a morale boost, she said, but no-one can tell her how long it will take the grass to grow - or whether it will.
But she’s thankful she’s not dealing with a flooded home.
‘‘We can still go home and make a cup of coffee and go to a dry bed,’’ she said.
‘‘My heart just goes out these guys [in Kaiaua]. They deserve all the help they can get.’’
When salt water meets farm pasture, it’s terminal, Robinson said.
‘‘The grass will die and you have to re-sow. But you can’t re-sow until the salt’s been washed out,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s sort of an event that you don’t wish on anyone because it’s quite a severe impact.’’
Another farm had 80 per cent impact and others with 40 or 50 per cent.
Salt water floods aren’t common, he said, so Federated Farmers was looking for experts to help the dozen-odd affected farmers.
They also hoped to find some feed to help those struggling.
The Rural Support Trust for Waikato, Hauraki and Coromandel went door to door on Monday, co-ordinator Wanda Leadbeater said.
‘‘I’m just blown away by how resilient those people are,’’ she said.
But she said farmers needed to remember to look after themselves, their families and their neighbours, she said.
If they need extra help or want to talk to someone who understands what it’s like to be farming through a tough time, they can ring the trust on 0800 787 254.
The Rural Support Trust had got hold of research on how to handle salt water floods, Hauraki District Council Civil Defence controller Steve Fabish said.
That was to go to farmers on Wednesday.
In Kaiaua, where homes were flooded, insurance assessors were appearing to check out buildings.
*Counties Power works to mitigate storm damage, see P9
Sheryl McPherson said the salt water washed over her farm, causing pasture damage.