Canterbury flooding: Historic Grigg family farm wiped out by worst rain theyve ever seen

Canterbury farmers bordering rivers have been devastated by the hundred-year flood, with lost animals, thousands of kilometres of smashed fencing, and green fields turned overnight into shingle. Surrey Hills Station farmer Arthur Grigg, whose access bridge, driveway and paddocks have been wiped out, says the Government needs to step up after the “extraordinary” event. Kurt Bayer reports.

From the picturesque plateau where he was married just weeks ago in the shadow of the century-old family homestead, Arthur Grigg surveys the damage.

“It’s a kick in the guts,” he says, shaking his head.

The place, Surrey Hills Station near Mt Somers, up until the weekend, had been looking good too. Grigg had been thinking about a mid-winter break, maybe a spot of fishing.

But those plans were washed away along with hectares of flat pasture land after the neighbouring Hinds River breached its banks and splashed through his property.

In 50 years of farming, his father has never seen anything like the rainfall over that intense three-day period over the weekend.

The Mt Somers area copped about 540mm during the extreme-weather event.

In fact, the Griggs’ reckon there was three times more water through their farm than they’ve ever seen before, calling it an “exceptional flood”.

For Arthur Grigg, the 29-year-old fourth-generation farmer, it was tough to witness.

“When you first see the damage, you’re almost reduced to tears,” he says, as he evaluates the damage on the family’s 1200ha sheep and beef station over both flat and rolling hills.

The 60-year-old bridge, which gives the main access to the property, was washed away. It lies crumpled and useless downstream.

Around 10-12km of farm fencing has been destroyed, along with gates and culverts.

There are more than 20 slips and landslides across the property, with spots of sudden gaping holes and slopes, while some formerly lush green paddocks are now pure rubble and shingle.

“I’m a rock farmer now,” Grigg half-jokes.

“It’s a mess. We’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a natural disaster.”

The Griggs are disappointed with regional authority Environment Canterbury (ECan) too, claiming that much of the damage from the Hinds River could have been mitigated.

They say the river’s plug of shingle has steadily risen over the years – and over the last decade or so, very little machinery work has been done in the riverbed to keep it “wide and free”, and stabilised by banks of willow trees.

The Griggs say they even volunteered to get their own machinery in and do the work but were blocked from doing so.

It’s resulted, they say, in the river breaching in several spots onto their lands, and creating widespread damage and “extraordinary consequences”.

“Unfortunately, we have been left high and dry and it’s resulted in a natural disaster,” says Grigg, whose sister is National’s Selwyn MP Nicola Grigg.

There was little that could be done once the heavy rain began over the weekend.

From inside their house, on the higher land, they could hear the river roar.

Grigg described the event as similar to a “tropical downpour” – except that it lasted several days.

“There were times indoors where you couldn’t actually talk to one another, it was that loud,” he says.

They had 260mm of rain by Sunday morning – and another 170mm by midday Monday – something Grigg said was “surreal, relentless”.

One saving grace, he says, that it wasn’t too cold, with temperatures around 8-10C and he doesn’t believe they lost any livestock.

Now, they’re turning to the clean-up.

When the Herald visited yesterday, a huge digger and dump truck had arrived on site to try and start clearing the shingle and debris from their washed-out driveway and front paddocks.

The Griggs say while they are well insured, they doubt it will cover everything.

And they now are calling on the Government to step up its support.

While Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor yesterday announced an emergency relief package of $500,000, Grigg says it’s “not even a drop in the bucket”, especially when he reckons his farm’s damage alone could be around $200,000-$250,000.

“Canterbury is the hub of New Zealand, with huge dairy exports, crops, and bits and pieces, and when you see the money outlined for Covid relief packages and tourism and hospitality and all those people who were massively affected – and we don’t disagree with what was done there – but when there’s a region like Canterbury that has been hit as badly as it’s been hit, [the Government] needs to pick up their game big time,” he says.

“I know a lot of people like to refer to the farming industry as being reasonably resilient – but that resilience needs to be backed up by some support by Government.”

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