By Rebecca Flannery
Sheep and cattle from isolated parts of the Marlborough Sounds are getting a sea cruise as part of an innovative solution to road damage.
Heavy rainfall in July took a massive toll on roads, with access to some parts of the Sounds cut off. There were more than 100 slips and unstable hillside are still making it tricky and dangerous for repair crews.
A key route for farmers, Kenepuru Rd, is closed and Marlborough District Council says it’s unclear when it can be re-opened.
Federated Farmers Marlborough President Scott Adams said the situation for farmers, particularly at this time of the year, was troublesome.
“Stock need to be on the move to processing plants, and we are not taking small numbers. With over 30,000 stock units in the Marlborough Sounds it’s a big deal.”
Needs must and farmers, Johnson’s Barge Service and export-focused meat co-operative Alliance worked together on an unusual – but not untested – solution.
Johnson’s quickly pivoted its teams and resources to assist with cartage by barge. The business has been around for more than a century and back in the day barge was how the company moved all stock in and out of the area. It’s still the way they service farms in the outer Sounds & D’Urville Island area and they also pick up work with salmon farms, logging, building, moorings and general cartage.
Johnson’s Logistics Manger Kim Weatherhead says the road damage and response has required the team “to step it up a notch or three and get on with doing what is needed for the people of the Sounds.
“It has been a logistical nightmare at times, but it’s working beautifully. No matter how obscure the task, thinking outside the square is our specialty.”
Stock pens have been assembled on barge space usually used for cars or logs. By November, it’s expected two or three barges a week will be needed for stock movement.
The co-ordination, communication and relationship building that has gone on with the Marlborough District Council and its recovery team is useful groundwork should the region face a similar dilemma in future, Kim said.
The photos on this page are of the Hinau, one of Johnson’s six vessels. It’s a dumb barge, meaning – aside from the hydraulics on board for loading – she has no engine as such, meaning she can carry a lot more weight/load (up to 200 tonnes), sit lower in the water and can be manoeuvred into shallow, tricky areas.
It is the job of Tawhai the tug to move her. Tawhai is a much-loved vessel in the Sounds and last year marked her 50th birthday. Residents are well-accustomed to the chug of her two Gardiner engines as she steams up and down the Kenepuru on her runs.
Coastal shipping has become a new normal for residents and farmers alike, and will be for some time yet, but at around $100 per car it’s not a cheap option. Imagine the barge bill for getting stock carted. Fortunate then that Alliance has offered support.
“We’re a 100 per cent farmer-owned co-operative so we’re happy to look after our farmers and assist them in getting their livestock to our Nelson plant,” Alliance Group regional manager Murray Behrent said.
“Farmers in the upper South Island have had a tough few years and we’re committed to supporting them. During the fires in the Nelson area in February 2019, we offered grazing for affected farmers, and many made good use of our free store stock facilitation service.”