Today, the grass is growing, his two farms have new pastures – and Scottie McLeod is smiling.
The Edgecumbe farmer has just come out 12 months of his repairing his farms from the biggest flood his dairying properties have experienced in just under 30 years.
Scottie has lived on the Rangitaiki Plains for 63 years and says it is a flood plain. “If you farm here you have to be prepared for floods. Floods are one of the reasons the land is so fertile,” says Scottie.
“But that [the April 6, 2017, flooding] was the biggest flood we’ve ever had,” says Scottie. “And we’ve only had two really big floods in all that time.”
In early-April last year Scottie had to truck his 500 dairy cows off his two farms and out of the area “as water was flowing across the paddocks”.
“Our cows went to Rerewhakaaitu, which we were very grateful for those farmers up there to take so many cows from the district.”
But the work really began once the water receded. “After the flood we just had a black mat of dead grass,” says Scottie. “So we had to re-sow it all.”
A helicopter flew grass seed onto the paddocks – and it took three months before the grass came back.
“Three months I quite awhile in winter when you’re wanting to get your grass growing as quick as possible so you can get some spring feed.
“That’s was the main aim – to get grass growing as quick as possible for the cows when they came back home, so they could start producing for the vat.”
Scottie had to bring the cows back in two lots at the start of June. “When we got them back again we had to resort them by their calving dates – then we had to send another 300 [out of the 500] away again due to there being no grass on the farm. So we took the late-calvers away and left the earlier calvers on-farm.”
Then culverts, stopbank and fences had to be fixed, plus fallen trees trimmed and debris from the storm removed. “We’ve just finished fixing the last storm-damaged fence in March,” says Scottie.
He says his farming operations have incurred a big financial cost from the flooding – one he doesn’t want to put a number on – due to loss of milk production, shifting stock off-farm, grass seed, fertiliser, plus all of the repairwork carried out.
The farmers who took the cows rightly got the milk cheque from their production, says Scottie.
“And once you put the seed in and it germinates then you’ve got to and spray for broadleaf weeds, which is another cost.”
But it has been a blessing in disguise, says Scottie. “We have good pastures now – we’ve renewed a lot of them so we’re keeping up with the latest trends of grass seeds.
And we were fortunate we didn’t have any houses go underwater. If you have houses go under it’s a real nuisance.”
“Obviously we would have had better production this season if the flooding didn’t happen. We’re definitely down on production on one farm. But the cows will have a good season next year.”
And as for the Cullen Report headed by Sir Michael Cullen? “I think it’s a common sense report that made recommendations that were probably going to be done anyway.”