Salty sea flood kills off farm­ers’ liveli­hood

Franklin County News - - YOUR LOCAL NEWS - LIBBY WIL­SON

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.

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