New report reveals true extent of drought and COVID-19 damage on Hawke's Bay economy

The combination of drought and the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to "one of the greatest economic shocks Hawke's Bay has seen" according to a new report.

Presented on Wednesday, the Regional Economic Recovery report provides the first full picture of how Hawke's Bay has been affected by the immense agricultural and economic challenges 2020 has brought so far.

It showed the severe drought conditions experienced earlier this year led to 187 farmers in the region using feed transport relief, 333 small lifestyle blocks receiving help from feed runs and 143 people requesting feed budgeting assistance.

The report's author Sarah Tully said the trying conditions also contributed to farmers' stress around the future.

"There’s concern around the flow-on impacts from water and feed shortages and low stock numbers combined with global uncertainty influencing commodity prices," Tully said on Wednesday.

According to the report, $330 million has been paid in wage subsidies across the region due to COVID-19, with 52 percent of jobs covered in the first payment and 10 percent in the extension. The regional council, with the help of booster funding from the Government, has supported 728 local businesses with $1.5 million of assistance under the Regional Business Partners programme.

Tully said a total of 2200 people have lost their jobs, compared to this time last year.

"Job seeker numbers are up 58 percent versus this time last year and there's been a significant increase in income relief payments, accommodation supplement support and special food grants in July 2020."

Despite the economic damage, the report said the region stood in a better position for recovery than other places around the country, due to its "high performing food and fibre industry and booming construction sector".

"There's a significant pipeline of capital projects and in more cases than not the issue is filling jobs not creating them," Tully said.

"Workforce planning and right training for labour requirements will be an integral part of recovery for the region.

"Adapting between response and recovery moving forward is key, with a focus on building resilience and thriving in a 'new normal'."

Hawke's Bay Regional Council chief executive James Palmer said the council had so far been awarded $20.7 million of funding towards recovery projects, with another $10.6 million pending.