'Logistical nightmare' sorting out mess

Immigration New Zealand is to work with Canterbury-based irrigation companies to get more specialist workers into the country to fix storm- damaged irrigators.

Last week, Irrigation New Zealand said the wind storms which ravaged the region had caused ''unprecedented'' damage to more than 800 irrigators.

Irrigation NZ chief executive Andrew Curtis said machinery from South to North Canterbury had been damaged by high winds but the bulk of the damage was to machinery around Ashburton, Selwyn and Waimakariri.

''It's very, very serious,'' Mr Curtis said.

A lot could be repaired but many would need to be written off, he said.

Irrigation companies had immediately contacted overseas suppliers who were fast-tracking orders, nevertheless, there was still expected to be a six to eight-week time lag before parts arrived in the country.

It would be a similar time frame before repairs could be completed, he said.

This could be further delayed if the specialist staff required to fix the systems were not available.

Mr Curtis said there was a ''capacity issue'' which could not be resolved ''short of pulling in a whole lot of people from overseas''.

Rainer Irrigation owner Gavin Briggs said he would not be making a decision on bringing in overseas workers until he had a better idea of the ''big picture''.

He understood other companies hoped to arrange temporary work permits to allow workers from Australia and the United States to come into the country to help fix the systems.

The situation was a ''logistical nightmare''.

His company was aware of 260 centre pivot spans lying on the ground and another 30 pivots across the region that had lost key components.

Rotorainers were also damaged, he said.

Rainer Irrigation had already placed orders for parts and expected a container load to arrive from Australia within a fortnight with more arriving from the US within 60 days.

The company would employ its full complement of 85 staff to take on the repairs.

''At this point in time'' he planned to only use his present workforce because he needed skilled staff on the ground immediately and there was not enough equipment in the country yet for people to work with.

It would still take sometime to bring workers into the country, so if he did decide to employ overseas workers he would do that to erect what new pivots were needed, rather than for repair work.

''I'm not bringing them in while its still bedlam. I'll wait till things settle down before bringing them in.''

Some of the irrigators could be made operable, albeit without the corner arms, quite quickly.

While most could be repaired to ''as new'' he expected about 20% of irrigators would be written off.

The company had at least three months' work ahead of it.

''If we get it all done by Christmas we'd be as happy as hell,'' Mr Briggs said.

''The flow-on effect [of the damage] ... that's going to get people down.''

He believed it may even force some dairy farmers to go to once-a-day milking very early in the season.

And many farmers had their ''eggs in one basket'' and did not have back-up systems for effluent and were relying on centre pivots to do the job.

''It's a disaster,'' Mr Briggs said. This type of damage was reasonably common in tornado country in the midwest of the US.

''This is just a typical blow for the US.''

However, parts there were much cheaper and tax write-offs easier to get, so most machinery was simply written-off and replaced.

''Old machinery is just pushed to one side and set up new.''

Mr Briggs understood Irrigation NZ would be asking for Government assistance to help with the disaster.

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