Immigration NZ’s fast-tracking visas for overseas specialists to repair the 800 irrigators damaged by wind in Canterbury is boosting efforts to get irrigation underway.
“It’s great to see the help that’s gone into getting irrigators back on track” says IrrigationNZ CEO Andrew Curtis. “The fast-tracked Visas are good news for those desperately awaiting repairs. However we’re very aware that even with overseas assistance, the picture is grim for farmers whose irrigators require complicated rebuilds. Some won’t see irrigation before Christmas which could reduce milk production, threaten crop viability and put pressure on stock food supplies.”
It also causes problems with getting rid of effluent which is usually sprayed on pastures with irrigators.
Ashburton’s Rainer Irrigation welcomed four centre pivot technicians from South Africa this week.
Assistant Manager Lucas Cawte says the sheer workload generated by the wind’s severity far exceeded the company’s resources for a quick turnaround and overseas staff will significantly reduce downtime for farmers.
“We’ve brought these guys in from South Africa to focus on pivots as these sustained the most damage and that’s where the pressure point will be. It was pretty short notice for Visas but IrrigationNZ spoke with Immigration and forwarded contacts and it was a straightforward process. The turnaround was about 24 hours and our guys are now here. That’s unheard of.”
Rainer Irrigation has already fixed ¼ of the irrigators on its books but Mr Cawte says those repair jobs don’t represent the scale of damage they have seen.
“We’ve focused on the ones with minimal damage using stock we had. But the next phase will be heavy repairs and we’re still waiting on parts. One container has arrived from Australia where we cleared out their stock and another container is due shortly from the US. Our suppliers have really come to the party as we originally thought it would take six to eight weeks to get parts.”
Mr Cawte says farmers had been very understanding as they knew the scale of repairs the industry was facing.
“Many are helping where they can by providing us with telelifters and other machinery and throwing their own manpower at the job. But it is early days still.”
Immigration New Zealand’s Assistant Area Manager Christchurch, Steve Jones, says the department was happy to work with IrrigationNZ to expedite the application process for offshore irrigation crew.
An Immigration Manager from the Christchurch branch was provided as a dedicated point of contact. The manager was able to advise on the type of applications for offshore staff and where they should be lodged. Having one point of contact for IrrigationNZ and the various irrigation companies had proved very effective, says Mr Jones.
“We consider requests for urgent processing on a case by case basis and, where there are compelling reasons, we will prioritise the processing of applications lodged. This was clearly a situation where time was of the essence and we agreed to prioritise applications accordingly,” says Mr Jones.
Immigration NZ’s acknowledgement of the urgency is appreciated but even with more specialists from overseas the scale of the work needed means it will be at least a couple of months before all irrigators are repaired.
Some farmers will decided the production lost justifies the expense of replacement equipment rather than repairs.