Support the Guardian

Available for everyone, funded by readers

Flood recovery: 'a hell of a mission'

Flood recovery: 'a hell of a mission'
Mid Canterbury deer, beef and sheep farmer Darryl Butterick with one of the many new ponds on his farm. This used to be a small creek, shallow enough to wade across in gumboots but the floodwaters scoured out a deep hollow that is deeper than Butterick is tall.

Two years after devastating floods killed or displaced hundreds of livestock and brought down tons of shingle and silt, wrecking paddocks, fences and roads, life for Mid Canterbury farmer Darryl Butterick and his wife Lyn has almost returned to normal.
Although normal includes working around several deep scours left behind after the May 2021, floodwaters ripped through their property. Some scours have been turned into unplanned water features, because they were too expensive and time-consuming to fill.
The Buttericks’ deer, beef and sheep farm straddles the Ashburton Staveley Road near Greenfields.
It is sandwiched between the north and south branches of the Ashburton River, and was one of the Mid Canterbury farms to bear the brunt of the three-day flood.
The property was hit by a “double whammy from both rivers” when they breached their banks.
“Everything got hammered,” Butterick said.
While two neighbours and some stock were rescued from the floodwaters, many animals were never seen again and presumed drowned.
Paddocks and fences were decimated, and water troughs and water systems washed away.
The contents of sheds – both machinery and hay – were water damaged
Even a two-ton roller was swept away and later found at the bottom of a pond.
Butterick said the floods had scoured out numerous holes “deep enough to cover a truck” on the property, and left fields covered in shingle and silt.
A contractor had worked “flat out” fencing for 12 to 18 months.
The silt and shingle had to be cleared before the pastures could be restored, and the scraped silt was used to fill some of scours.
After two years of constant non-stop work, and a lot of help and support from mates and suppliers, the farm is now “not far away” from being back to where it was before the floods.
“It’s been a hell of a mission, but we’re coming to the end of it now. Everyone has pulled through and is sort of back to normal.
“But for a long time I never thought there would be a normal.”
Managing the repairs and recovery while trying to run the farm had “been a fair old mission”.
Butterick said the initial stages of the recovery had been disheartening. After weeks or months of constant hard work he’d look around and find all that work had not really made much of a difference.
In the first few months when the fences were down, stock would wander off overnight. Half a day would be wasted rounding them up again.
He’s still focused on one day at a time to get through it.
Butterick said he had not tallied up all the repair costs, but it would be well into six figures.
However, it wasn’t just the cost to clear and replant the fields, build new fences, and replace flood-damaged machinery and equipment.
There were lost opportunities too.
While Butterick is thankful that sheep and beef prices were relatively high over the past two years, he wasn’t able to capitalise on that as he might have if the farm had been fully operational.
All he could do was maximise the returns on the stock he had.
Butterick said his land was left very vulnerable for up to a year after the flood until the stopbanks were repaired.
“Every time it rained I was up checking the river.”
Ashburton was still vulnerable to flooding and the river needed to be sorted out with a sense of urgency, he said.
The floods had been a huge wake up call, but the recent lack of heavy rain had allowed people to fall into thinking everything was okay.

- By Sharon Davis