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Seven months after the 7.8 quake, Graham Collins still finds broken pipes in his farm paddocks

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As Graham Collins walks around his Kaikoura dairy farm, he still finds broken pipes underneath paddocks.
Wells he only recently cleared had three metres of sediment in them.

It is almost seven months after the November earthquake destroyed his milking sheds and irrigation systems. His grain silo, with 20 tonnes of feed for the cows, toppled in the earthquake.

Graham Collins reckons it will take him six months to get to the “new normal” stage for farmers in the region.

In the days after the earthquake, he dumped about 14,000 litres of milk day because trucks had no access.

Collins had to cut back to milking once a day.

Graham Collins’ grain silo, with 20 tonnes of feed for the cows, toppled in the earthquake.

The farm is “probably never going to be back to the old normal”, Collins says.

He said even next season he would milk at a reduced rate, with his damaged milking shed still a long way from being functional.

He leased a nearby milking shed to keep his operation going, but the heavy traffic wearing on the road made it difficult to get his stock there.

Graham Collins had to cut back to milking once a day after the November earthquake.

While grateful the damage was not worse, he reckoned getting to the “new normal” would take at least another six months.

His situation is not isolated.

Fonterra North Canterbury area manager Mike Hennessy said long-term issues made it hard for earthquake-affected farmers to recover their lost income from last season.

Destroyed or damaged milking sheds forced farmers to reduce milking to once a day, or stop milking entirely.

Dairy cows usually produced milk until as late as May, but some farmers stopped milking as early as December last year, leaving them with no income for months.

Two farms sill could not produce milk.

“Unless the other farmers do really, really well, we won’t hit that same level [as before the earthquakes] because, simply, there are fewer cows.”

At this stage, it was hard to tell what the new normal would be, said Hennessy.

The character of the land changed after the earthquake, he said, and drainage issues which were now a common problem.

“Paddocks have changed, springs have come, creeks have started running that haven’t run before.”

Many farmers faced the extra cost of upgrading “band-aid” temporary fixes to more permanent infrastructure, with less income to work with.

He was confident the region would get back to its old milk production, eventually.

“It’s just going to take time.

“What that amount of time is, we don’t know,” he said.

DairyNZ Canterbury regional leader Virginia Serra said although farmers were seen as resilient people who “just get on with the job”, the reality could be different.

“It’s still very challenging for many in Kaikoura.  Some still have the stress of dealing with damage to their homes, infrastructure on farms, and the land itself,” she said.

“As the people of Canterbury know, the effects of an earthquake can remain for a long time.”

Being largely cut off by road made it difficult for some people with operational farms to find employees for the season.

Bob Balanos, a dairy farmer from Rangiora, helps migrants find work in New Zealand.

He said Kaikoura farmers approached him to help them find workers.

“Part of the problem is it’s far away,” he said. “People think because of the damage to the road that it’s isolated.”

Hennessy said the whole town was still suffering from being so cut off, but the opening of State Highway 1 and the boom in milk prices helped Kaikoura farmers’ morale.

“The attitude and atmosphere certainly changed,” he said.

The good dairy market alone is not enough to get Kaikoura farmers back on their feet.

“There’s still a long way to go for a lot of people, it’s not over yet, and there’s a lot of work still needing to be done before normality, whatever that looks like, kicks back in.”

_By Skara Bohny for The Press