Data around the impact of Cyclone Gabrielle has grown significantly in recent weeks. Groups in affected regions, central and local government, and HortNZ and product groups have been working together to capture the number of growers and hectares affected, immediate crop and revenue losses, and more.
At the same time, organizations are estimating the long-term impact in terms of the cost of recovery, lost production over successive seasons, the impact on regional employment and economies, and gross domestic product.
All this data is being fed into government departments, as well as regional government. Ministers and senior officials have also seen and heard what the impact is likely to be. They are worried about the long-term effect on people: the risk of business failure and unemployment and the social and wellbeing consequences of that.
Meanwhile, growers on the ground are getting on with recovery, including the removal of silt and debris. Some are keen to put it all behind them and move on, while others are either thinking about walking away or have already made the decision to exit the sector.
Our industry needs to hear from the government about what it will do next. The government has said it will provide more financial assistance – but what will that look like? Will there be a managed retreat from the worst affected areas? If so, what will that mean for people, particularly growers, in such areas?
Not all growers’ circumstances are equal. All sorts of unique factors come into play when a grower business makes decisions about the future. For those growers that want to and can stay in the industry, they will want to get on with it. To get on with it, they need all the broken infrastructure repaired as soon as possible to prepare for replanting and/or get what’s left to harvest to market as efficiently as possible.
For those growers that want to or have to exit the industry, they need to know what that looks like from a central government point of view as soon as possible. With this, the government also has several regions and areas like Auckland to consider post the January floods. In addition, the government will not want to set a precedent in terms of its response to future adverse weather events.
This situation will be cold comfort to growers anxious for certainty about the future. However, it’s probably not possible to speed the process up, as there are many significant factors to be analyzed to inform direction and decisions.
Ministers and officials are receiving robust information, and most have seen the impact on growers firsthand. The groups and groupings that have been established to inform and support recovery efforts are doing great work to amass information and support affected growers and communities.
But it is a waiting game, and because of that, it is important that we all stay grounded and realistic about timeframes while focused on the future and the different scenarios that could play out.
HortNZ’s stance is that the industry must be enabled to return to the trajectory it was on before the cyclone and earlier weather events. This must happen as soon as possible because even without barriers, the recovery will take several years and up to a decade for the most affected growers to achieve a sense of normalcy.