Canterbury floods: Farmers assessing damage after 'devastating' floods

Henry Rooney cleans plastic from silage off his farm.
Henry Rooney cleans plastic from silage off his farm. Photo credit: RNZ

By Katie Todd of RNZ

Farmers near burst stopbanks in Mid Canterbury are beginning to find out the "devastating" costs of the hugely damaging floods.

Receding floodwaters have revealed piled up debris, damage to farm roads and fences, and waterlogged winter feed, buildings and machinery.

Among the worst hit is the Rooney family, who have watched the Ashburton River carve a new path right through their Methven Highway dairy farm where five generations have lived and worked.

They made a last minute escape from their house when stopbanks burst, swamping the property.

Philly Rooney said the floodwaters had taken "basically everything," so even calculating the damage was a daunting task.

"The winter feed's all gone. The straw's all ruined. The fences are gone. I'm not sure if we've lost any cows or not," she said.

"It's just a huge amount of damage. It's going to be a huge cleanup of branches, mud, everything. It's terrible."

Until yesterday afternoon, when a friend flew them home by helicopter, the Rooneys didn't know if their house near the river had been flooded or if their Great Dane, in the garage, had survived.

They've confirmed their belongings and the dog are okay, but discovered the house is damp and "messy".

Meanwhile half the farm remains underwater, and Laurence Rooney can only get part of the way across in his tractor.

Laurence Rooney's tractor on the waterlogged farm.
Laurence Rooney's tractor on the waterlogged farm. Photo credit: RNZ

He is discovered flooding in his beer shed and damage to his workshop, while an outdoor play area is now covered in stones carried more than a hundred metres from the riverbed.

Before the cleanup can begin, Philly Rooney said their priority was getting 200 cows and a number of bulls to safety on leased land up the road as soon as the floodwaters allow.

"Our heifers, as soon as we can walk them, will go to a neighbour's onto a truck and up there. And we've got some jersey bulls that a guy's said he'll take for us, so that's quite handy."

Meanwhile down the road, at another point where the river breached the stopbank, is a farm owned by Laurence's brother Henry Rooney.

His house survived, but more than 80 percent of his farm has been under water too.

It means silage is ruined, roads and driveways and fences around the farm need replacing, and he has also started moving stock to leased land up the road.

Yesterday afternoon, he was getting ready to launch into repair-mode.

'We've got to let the water get away first, and while it's doing that I'll be talking to my farm advisor and insurance broker and setting out the main plan for what we're going to do," he said.

"Then I suppose I'll just be picking up everything that's been carted on down here [by the river]. And going to my neighbours, retrieving everything that's been washed to there."

Henry Rooney expected it would take at least a week for all the water to clear off his farm.

Philly Rooney.
Philly Rooney. Photo credit: RNZ

Looming ever closer is one of the busiest times of the year.

"The only thing I'm really worried about is calving in eight weeks. I just can't see us having this turned around and ready," he said.

"If the water was gone now, it would be too wet and soggy to take any machinery out there - you know, there'd be holes you could fall into, 'cause the water just rips everything up."

Henry Rooney said one positive was the warmth and support from neighbours and the wider Mid Canterbury community.

He's also been heartened by the prompt response from Fonterra and local authorities who have been out assessing damage.

The Government has released an initial $500,000 in relief funding for affected farmers and growers and say they will assess if more is needed in coming days.