Hawke’s Bay farmers grateful for support a year on from cyclone


When the full force of Cyclone Gabrielle struck last February, it brought a range of emotions for Hawke’s Bay farmers Nick and Nicky Dawson.

The couple farm 450 cows on around 180ha in Patoka, just outside of Napier, along with a further block which they run as a beef and sheep farm and grazing for their dairy stock.

Nick and Nicky say thankfully friends and family were ok but there were worries of paying their mortgage and the welfare of their animals.

Nicky and Nick Dawson

"We knew the cyclone was coming, but as we are not coastal and quite inland, we didn’t think we would be as exposed to the worst of it," says Nicky.

With fallen trees blocking roads, huge landslips and four local bridges badly damaged or washed away altogether, the Dawsons were completely cut off, meaning supplies had to be delivered by helicopter or boat.

“We had no communications at all for three days, so we didn’t know quite how bad the situation was in the rest of the area,” says Nick. “Thankfully our farm buildings and house were ok but with the rainfall on already saturated ground we had some big slips on the farm with fences and culverts destroyed.”

The cows were able to be milked for three days thanks to a neighbour’s generator, but with the realisation that the tanker couldn’t come to pick up the milk and with no power, the couple had no option but to dry their herd off - an especially bitter pill to swallow as the herd was performing 25% better than normal and income was good.

Thankfully our farm buildings and house were ok but with the rainfall on already saturated ground we had some big slips on the farm with fences and culverts destroyed.

Nick Dawson, Fonterra Farmer

“But Fonterra were quick to come in,” says Nick. “Our local Farm Source rep Tony Haslett helicoptered in with some vets to speak with all the dairy farmers in the district. The support and supplies they provided were really appreciated, especially the beer and chocolate!”

The Dawsons have also been grateful for the longer-term support of their Co-op.

“With no milk being produced we thought we were stuffed and we were stressing about how we were going to pay the bills,” says Nick. “When we found out that Fonterra was going to pay us regardless, we were amazed. We didn’t know that option existed. It truly shows the value of a strong Co-op and it’s awesome to know that Fonterra has our backs. I think some of the local sheep and beef farmers were quite impressed by Fonterra’s quick response.”

But even now there is still one area of the farm that Nick can’t quite bring himself to have a decent look at. The couple spent 20 years creating a picturesque wetland at the back of the farm with extensive planting, bridges and walking tracks. It was one of the key features that saw Nick and Nicky receive the 2020 Fonterra Responsible Dairying Award and the 2019 Ballance Farm Environment Award for the East Coast region.

Damage to local bridges left the Dawsons cut off

“It was my pride and joy but now years of hard work have been destroyed, so it’s heartbreaking,” says Nick.

One year on and Nick and Nicky are back milking. Temporary bridges have been constructed and while the roads are “terrible”, the tanker is able to collect their milk.

“The community is still a bit fragile but this was an unprecedented event,” says Nicky. “People have come together and with the support of our Co-op we can look forward into the future.”

With no power, it was dinner by candlelight with paper plates for family and staff
Fallen trees blocked access by road
Swapping a bridge for a boat
One of the many slips on the Dawson's farm
The couple's wetland was destroyed