New Zealand dairy industry assesses damage after earthquakes

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

The coastal tourist community of Kaikoura in New Zealand was close to the epicenter of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in the early hours of Monday morning local time. Fonterra says its site nearby is safe. Pic: ©iStock/7Michael
The coastal tourist community of Kaikoura in New Zealand was close to the epicenter of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in the early hours of Monday morning local time. Fonterra says its site nearby is safe. Pic: ©iStock/7Michael

Related tags New zealand Fonterra

The farming industry has pledged to help after two large earthquakes hit the South Island of New Zealand.

Initially thought to be a 7.5 magnitude quake, the USGS (US Geological Survey) upgraded the earthquake, which hit southwest of Kaikoura, to a 7.8.

Dairy cooperative Fonterra has a site about 65km (41 miles) from the epicenter of the quake, which happened shortly after midnight Monday morning local time.

A second, 6.2 aftershock occurred at around 1:45pm local time, one of more than 100 aftershocks in the area recorded by GeoNet​. More than 40 have been of a magnitude of 5.0 or higher.

Kaikoura has since declared a state of emergency, and those living close to the Clarence River have been advised to move to higher ground. To date, two deaths have been reported from the quake.

The New Zealand Defence Force tweeted Monday that it is heading to Kaikoura to evacuate tourists and residents, and to deliver aid supplies.

No damage to Fonterra sites

In a statement issued by Fonterra on Monday, the cooperative said all of its staff in New Zealand are safe and there is no major damage to any of its manufacturing sites.

Road closures around Kaikoura mean there are approximately 30 farms in the area that may not have their milk collected by Fonterra, while others around the country may have late collections as tankers are rerouted.

It does, however, anticipate some milk collection disruption due to road closures and other issues accessing farms in the area.

Fonterra’s Farm Source chief operating officer, Miles Hurrell, said that some farms that remain without power, or those that cannot be reached by tanker due to road closures, may need to dispose of milk.

Hurrell confirmed that Fonterra will contact farmers directly if disposal is required.  

“We’re doing our best to reach everyone who is due for collection immediately. With power out and phone lines down in some areas, that includes putting Farm Source teams on the road to go door to door to try to update those farmers with the latest information,”​ he said.

All well at Synlait

Synlait says that its Dunsandel site, southwest of Christchurch and about 150km from the epicenter, is safe, as are all its employees.

It says that some Synlait suppliers are located in the affected area, but it understands they are safe. The company says it is working with those affected to manage any disruptions, which is says are not expected to be significant.

FFNZ helpline

Federated Farmers of New Zealand (FFNZ) has a helpline for farmers needing assistance (0800 FARMING), including generator loans.

FFNZ says that it believes the SH1 road may be closed for more than a week, and that Fonterra is checking on farm access for milk tankers. Currently, the SH1 coastal road is closed from Seddon to Cheviot, a stretch of more than 170km (105 miles).

It notes that the regional council wants any dumped milk to go on land, not into water, and is advising boiling of drinking water as a precautionary measure.

Dairy NZ also has a page dedicated to the earthquake​ from managing stock to safety and irrigation.

Too early to tell

Charly Chai, a Singapore-based risk management consultant with a focus on the dairy industry, told DairyReporter’s sister publication FoodNavigator-Asia that it is still early to measure and quantify the impact​ on milk operations.

“The transportation system is certainly an area that received a direct impact in some of the areas. This could bring dairy inland logistics complications,”​ Chai said.

He speculated that farmers on the northern plains of South Island could face water supply issues, with possible damage to irrigation systems, while drinking water could be compromised for families, staff and stock.

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