Flood-affected growers, farmers react with scepticism to Government's $1b cash injection

Orchardists and winemakers in Hawke's Bay say they urgently need access to emergency funds to help them start the job of clearing their land.

It comes after the Government announced a massive $1 billion new package of support for flood and cyclone-ravaged communities, including an additional $275 million to repair roads, a $100 million flood protection fund, and a commitment to return all schools to their pre-weather state.

Jonty Moffett, a watermelon, rockmelon and apple grower, remains homeless with his family three months on.

He's faced with pulling up 50 hectares of export apples from the silt - replanting will cost $200,000 per hectare.

"Go without cashflow for four years until those go into production? I mean how do you do that, I don't have the resources to do that."

The $40,000 he's had from the Ministry for Primary Industries to date "didn't even cover the first week's wages" for his 100 staff, he told Newshub, many of whom he's had to let go.

Two recent reports estimate the bill for assistance for the horticulture sector alone sits at around $800 million and he's doubtful Sunday's cash injection will go far enough.

He's worried that farmers and growers with generations of knowledge will bow out of the industry before the cash announced today makes it to them. 

"Women have already lost husbands, families have lost fathers, and that's big but as a country it's about the loss of skills too," Moffett said

His message to the Government on hearing Sunday's announcement is: "Just don't lose those critical people in our communities and the critical people we need to grow our export businesses."

Jonty Moffett.
Jonty Moffett. Photo credit: Newshub.

Grant Robertson, who is the Minister for both Finance and Cyclone Recovery, offered assurances at Sunday's announcement.

"When it comes to frustrations to do with timing, no one's going to be more frustrated than me. We put the money out there, we want it spent," he said.

Alchemy Wines viticulturist Neal Cave is still waiting on insurance. The only thing he's growing now is mushrooms in his written-off home.

The two-day wait he and his wife, daughter and UK visitors had trying to flag down a helicopter is now the least of his worries.

"There are thousands affected. We need access to funds now, we need access to machinery now particularly so we can start clearing the land," Cave said.

Half his world-class vineyard of chardonnay grapes is unusable.

The Government on Sunday promised $100 million to improve flood protection and stopbank measures, although it acknowledges more will be needed in the months to come.

While growers like Cave wait, Task Force Green members are arriving to help.

Two gangs of workers, previously unemployed, are learning fencing skills and how to use small machinery safely to ease the load on Hawke's Bay farmers and growers overwhelmed by silt and debris on their land.

"They know they are making a difference and we are seeing the huge impact these guys are having and some of them are even being offered permanent roles, so it's a win-win," said  Darius J Harris, Taskforce Green tutor.

Harris said some of those they've been helping "couldn't see the wood for the trees and their mental health was starting to deteriorate, but now we see a spring in their step and that feels good".