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Cyclone-hit kumara growers grateful for support

Kumara growers James and Krista Franklin.

Kumara growers James and Krista Franklin.

With Northland’s kumara industry back on track after the devastation of Cyclone Gabrielle, one Kaipara farming couple have a simple message for those who helped: “thank you”.



Like many growers in the region, James and Krista Franklin’s property near Dargaville was hit hard by Gabrielle, after the Kaihu River burst its banks in February last year.


“We were warned about a storm coming, but never did we expect the devastation that Cyclone Gabrielle dealt to us,” Krista said.


After a night of very heavy rain, the couple woke to find the field across the road had turned into a lake, and knew they were in trouble.


They took their two young girls to James’ parent’s home and after driving his family to safety, James returned to the farm to try to save what he could.

The Franklins' home in the wake of flooding caused by Cyclone Gabrielle.

The Franklins' home in the wake of flooding caused by Cyclone Gabrielle.


While the couple’s home was fortunately spared due to being built up on piles, hectares of kumara were completely underwater.


In the days that followed, the pair endured a nervous wait. The longer the water sat on their fields, the greater the damage was likely to be.


Some exploratory digs confirmed their worst fears - most of the kumara had started to rot, and in the end, they were only able to harvest 16 per cent of their total crop.

One of the couple's kumara fields after the water receded, leaving behind rotten crops.

One of the couple's kumara fields after the water receded, leaving behind rotten crops.


The most agonising part was that the cyclone hit only a few days before when they had planned to harvest.


“We had, like many other growers, decided to leave it a couple of weeks to size the crop up,” Krista said.


“Hindsight’s a wonderful thing – it was probably the worst mistake we’ve made in our lives.”


The physical and financial damage was so bad that the couple seriously considered leaving the business.


“But in the end, we decided that we’d kick ourselves if we didn’t try again,” Krista said.




As James and Krista faced the daunting task of cleaning up and starting over, Krista said they realised, more than ever, the importance of mental wellbeing, including taking time to get off the farm to unwind.


“It’s a very lonely place when you’re not sure where to turn,” she said.


“But there were amazing events run by Rural Support Trust Northland, as well as the Northern Wairoa Vegetable Growers Association – they hosted lots of dinners and lunches where we could all get together as growers.”

An information-sharing event facilitated by Rural Support Trust Northland.

An information-sharing event facilitated by Rural Support Trust Northland.


Rural Support Trust Northland Chair Michelle Ruddell said, in the aftermath of Gabrielle, the trust organised a wide variety of support initiatives to help farmers like James and Krista.


“The initial impact on farmers was incredibly stressful,” Michelle said.


“Kumara growers had lost upward of 70 per cent of their crops - but initially no one knew just what the damage was - people were shell shocked.


“The ongoing rain had a more insidious impact on people - the weather ground people down.


“Rural Support is here to create opportunities for our farmers and growers to get off-farm, connect with other farmers and growers, to realise they are not alone.”


Michelle said Rural Support Trust Northland organised 100 events supporting farmers in 2023, with 5500 people attending, and facilitated the clean-up of 135 farms.


The number of one-on-one support clients being helped by the trust increased from 45 before Gabrielle, to 145 afterwards.


Care packages were sent out to 960 farmers, which included $1000 Countdown vouchers to enable them to hold end-of-harvest events with their teams.

Kumara harvesters hard at work on James and Krista's farm.

Kumara harvesters hard at work on James and Krista's farm.


For Krista and James, it made an incredible difference.


“There were information-sharing evenings, or spokespeople would come through from different organisations to offer support,” Krista said.


The trust receives funding from a range of sources, including the Ministry for Primary Industries, private donations, and from corporates.


ANZ New Zealand was one such company, donating $100,000 to the trust’s Cyclone Gabrielle relief effort.


Michelle said the funding went towards care packages for farmers and training trust staff and agri-sector professionals to better support the community, and recognise signs of distress.


“ANZ's contribution made a genuine difference for our farmers and growers,” Michelle said.




Krista realised the impact Rural Support Trust had at times like these, and soon after Gabrielle hit, she decided to get involved herself.


“It was such a welcome opportunity at that point in time,” Krista said.


“Being able to work with fellow kumara growers experiencing something similar to us, and other farmers who were going through the difficult season, it was just really rewarding.


“When you’re going through a time of devastation and difficulty, it’s just awesome to have someone rurally who can help guide you to the different supports that are available.”

Krista Franklin - Kumara grower and Rural Support Trust Northland Facilitator


A year later, with this season’s kumara harvest well underway, James says things seem to be back on track, both for the Franklin’s farm, and others in the region.


“We’re looking forward to getting our product out to market, hopefully at a good price,” he said.


“Maybe there’ll be a bit of built-up demand in the market, since a lot of people might have missed out last year.


“But yeah – the quality is looking really good.”

A bin of James and Krista Franklin's 2024 kumara crop.

A bin of James and Krista Franklin's 2024 kumara crop.


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