Farmer Focus: Huge New Zealand flood wreaks havoc

Canterbury has a bad habit of breaking extended dry spells with a deluge, and it sure did this spectacularly on 31 May.

In Valetta, we received 260mm of rain in 36 hours – one-third of our annual rainfall. Meanwhile, the slopes of Mt Somers, 18km inland, recorded a massive 540mm during the storm.

About the author

David Clark
Farmer Focus writer
David Clark runs a 463ha fully irrigated mixed farm with his wife Jayne at Valetta, on the Canterbury Plains of New Zealand’s south island. He grows 400ha of cereals, pulses, forage and vegetable seed crops, runs 1,000 Romney breeding ewes and finishes 8,000 lambs annually.
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The various flow recorders in the Ashburton River – one branch borders our farm – showed flows well over a 1-in-100-years event, before all but one of them were washed away. This was a massive event by any measure.

We were extremely lucky to not suffer any on-farm damage. The stop-banks above us overtopped, but did not breach. For that I am incredibly grateful.

Unfortunately, many in our district suffered significant erosion, shingle deposits and trees scattered across their properties as rivers burst their banks.

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Several irrigation dams were lost, many farms didn’t have a single fence left standing on portions of their properties, and roads and bridge approaches were washed away, cutting the district in half for two weeks.

Several night-time rescues where required, including one I was called to by a neighbour.

As we escaped damage ourselves, I was able to dedicate a lot of time to my role as Federated Farmers provincial president for mid-Canterbury.

I guess I would describe the past month as challenging, exhausting, interesting and very rewarding as we set up structures to work closely with civil defence, regional and district councils, social agencies, and the wider agricultural industry to ensure the best possible response and recovery to help our community out of the mud following this disaster.

We have worked closely with central government and hosted two on-farm visits from prime minister Jacinda Ardern, which has culminated in an initial NS$4m (£2.02m) relief package to go some way to assist with repairing uninsurable land damage.

The costs of recovery for our community will be many times that figure and, for some, years of work lie ahead.

Nature can be cruel at times, but during this event, we have seen the absolute best of rural communities coming together, joined by urban folk, to muck in and help neighbours, mates and strangers pick themselves up.

It is a structure we call the “Farmy Army”.     

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