Dargaville kūmara grower Doug Nilsson picks up his RSE workers after their accommodation block flooded. The water completely covers his kūmara farm.
Northland kūmara growers are still coming to grips with widespread devastation to their crops and industry in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle.
Some Dargaville growers in the ‘kūmara capital of New Zealand’ have lost their
entire crop, and others are reeling from the smell of the rotting vegetables following the devastating tropical storm that hit the region last week.
Northern Wairoa Vegetable Growers Association president and grower Doug Nilsson says kūmara “is going to be in very short supply this year”.
“Everyone’s lost more than 50 per cent; I’ve lost 100 per cent. I’m a write-off.
“I’m going to have to try to salvage seed to grow next year.
“I’ve heard of one packhouse [which has] lost 70 per cent of its production. It’s a major loss.”
Nilsson said though the floodwaters have subsided, until the remaining water dried off, it was hard to tell exactly how much of the crops had been lost.
“We won’t know until we start digging. It’s starting to smell pretty bad. Another week or two and we’ll find out.”
The Government recently announced an initial $4 million to help farmers and growers recover from the impact of the cyclone.
Agricultural minister Damien O’Connor said he expected the Government would provide more support “once a full and thorough assessment of the damage … across the North Island was complete”.
O’Connor, who visited the Kaipara district last Friday, estimates 50 per cent of the total kūmara crop has been lost.
“The breadth of this storm’s impact is unprecedented, with milk collection disrupted, orchards inundated and livestock losses across much of the North Island,” O’Connor said.
“This is a dynamic situation, and we are responding accordingly.”
Nilsson said the funding “wouldn’t go anywhere to help” the scale of damage.
The Northern Wairoa Vegetable Growers Association was making contact with growers to ensure they were getting the necessary support, he said.
“What growers are going to need is money to be able to keep paying the bills without letting their staff go.
“I’ve got 20 full-time staff – I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep them on with no income.
“Some growers are facing real financial hardship.
“It’s major; there’s growers that aren’t going to come through this.”
Dargaville grower Andrea De Bruin said the cyclone impact “was going to have a massive impact on our industry”.
“A number of our growers will lose their entire crops, and not only that, water has gone through their buildings and houses as well.
“The industry will have to work together to ensure, as much as possible, it comes out the other end intact.
“It’s going to be a very difficult harvest, and quite an emotional harvest.
“I’m just grateful everyone’s out of it with their life, and am thinking about our horticultural and agricultural colleagues in Hawke’s Bay who have an even higher mountain to climb.”
De Bruin also said it was too early to give an exact estimate, “but it was big”.
“We have a small percentage of our farm that didn’t go under, they’ll be all right.
“We will have seeds for next year.
“It’s a guessing game until we can start harvesting the crop. Then we’ll find out how bad it is.
“But, as you move around the blocks, they’re starting to smell – they’re rotting kūmara.”
Northland Rural Support Trust chairwoman Michelle Ruddell said growers were “coping well under the circumstances”.
“I think the stress levels will increase over the coming weeks as they realise the enormity of what they’ve been through.
“Last week, they were just getting through the week.”
The trust was working in collaboration with other industry groups to put on a series of free meals for farmers and growers in the area, she said.
Dinners have already been held in Ruawai and Dargaville, and upcoming meals will be at the Tangiteroria Complex Grounds on Wednesday from 11am, and Mamaranui Bowling Club on Thursday from 6pm.
“They get to turn up and connect, and we provide the food and do the clean-up.”
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The trust is also providing one-on-one support following a high number of calls to its 0800 number.