Helicopters called in to help as orchardists, farmers reel from polar blast

Farmers in the lower South Island are counting their losses from this week's bitter storm.

The snow has been followed by a big freeze and with it helicopters helping to save vines from frost damage.

From midnight to dawn, 30 helicopters have been hovering above vineyards.

"We managed to get a bit of rest last night," says pilot Fletcher Anderson. "Last time we flew we got about 20 minutes in bed."

Each helicopter is 'frost fighting', flying low to the ground in a loop and pushing any warmer air from above down onto the buds below.

"The temperature on the ground might be 0C and below, but the temperature at say 100 feet is plus 1C, plus 2C," Anderson says.

With the sun rising it's quickly apparent how important the tactic is. This week's polar blast has left orchardists and farmers reeling.

"The storm has been the worst storm we've had in 10 years," Croydon farmer Peter Grant says.

"Shocking, miserable, cold - a real lamb killer really," Gore farmer Stuart Ussher adds.

Ussher has just begun lambing and could be back at square one.

Gore coped the brunt of the freezing snow and driving blizzards lasting three days. Ussher is unsure how many he's lost at the height of lambing.

"It never let up, it would stop for five minutes then it would hit again, she was a shocking 24 hours," Ussher says.

Grant's at the tail end of lambing and is expecting up to 15 percent stock lost.

"There's certainly going to be some lambs lost," he says. "We're at the end of lambing here but there's definitely going to be some casualties."

As the snow quickly thaws and the sun comes out it's the forecast gale-force winds that are the biggest worry.

"That is the killer. It's not the snow that kills them, it's the wind chill factor," Grant says.

With more frosts on Wednesday night the helicopters will be back in the air - farmers waiting to count the cost.