Country / Farming

Marlborough farmers turn to barge travel as road repairs drag on

08:53 am on 29 January 2022

Farming in Marlborough's Kenepuru Sound has turned nautical, as locals wait for road repairs to be completed following a storm in July last year.

Johnson's Barge Services in Havelock have been shifting everything from machinery to vehicles, fertiliser, feed and livestock. Photo: Supplied

The storm caused significant damage to Kenepuru Road, leaving farmers no option but to use barges to shift tens of thousands of sheep and cattle and bring in farm supplies.

In December, residents were allowed to start using Kenepuru Road again during set times, but no trucks or trailers were allowed.

The phone hasn't stopped ringing at Johnson's Barge Services in Havelock since the storm.

Logistics manager Kim Weatherhead said they had been shifting everything from machinery to vehicles, building materials, fertiliser, feed and livestock.

"We're not a company that's ever not busy. We're always flat out. And so it's been quite a challenge to just get all of that emergency work and the essential work done amongst all our other stuff."

Weatherhead said their tallies had estimated there were roughly 30,000 head of sheep which needed to come and go from the area via barge.

"I couldn't tell you how many cows ... but there's also deer coming out early this year as well."

Weatherhead said the the animals seemed to enjoy the barge ride through the Marlborough Sounds and some farmers were accustomed to using their service as they'd done it many decades ago, before proper roads were established to their properties.

But she said it had not been straightforward for everyone, especially those who shifted stock on a frequent basis, and the bills would be adding up.

Johnson's Barge Service. Photo: Supplied

Emma Hopkinson farms sheep and beef at Kenepuru Heads said the tides and location of their farm meant getting stock off farm was a two day process.

"We would be the only farm, I would think, that doesn't have direct access to the sea. It's just the challenge of getting the stock truck in on the barge [to collect the sheep], you can't get them back out on the same day, because of course the barge is working with the tides."

Hopkinson said there had been a small subsidy and they were thankful for the amazing efforts of the barge, livestock transport and meat processing companies.

But she said using Kenepuru Road was much more efficient and much less expensive and they wanted some certainty on when it would be fixed.

"As farmers we can plan, but we need to know how long we're planning for," she said.

"The last roading meeting, you know, we basically tried to get it out of them again and it's like they don't want to commit a time in case we hold them to it, and that's not really what we're after."

Nearby sheep and beef farmer Tony Redwood agreed more certainty was needed.

Redwood said a barge trip from Havelock to their farm on the outer sounds was about four hours long, more than tripling the cost of bringing in farm supplies.

"And it's weather permitting, because we're on the outside edge of the sounds, so it [the barge] can't go every day."

"It just slows everything down and it's going to costs us more ... timing's everything with your stock and we've had four weeks now with no rain, you've got to start moving things."

The repair bill for Marlborough's storm damaged roads, including Kenepuru Road, was estimated to be up to $90 million.

Marlborough Roads recovery manager Steve Murrin said there was a lot of assessment and design work to complete before some access could be restored in the coming 12 to 18 months.

Murrin said the community was being kept up to date on progress.