NZ Farmer - Waikato farmer reveals his farm first in the region to get Mycoplasma bovis cattle disease

Henk Smit has come forward as the Waikato dairy farmer whose herd has tested positive for Mycoplasma bovis.

Smit walked up to the stage and put his hand up during a meeting attended by close to 600 farmers at the Sir Don Rowlands Centre near Cambridge.

He outlined how the cattle disease arrived on his farm and his frustrations with dealing with the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Smit has farming interests in three properties around Waikato including the dairy farm that tested positive for M bovis.

When asked afterwards why he spoke up, the Dutch-born farmer said: "There's been so much rumours going around. I thought I would face [them]."

The disease spread to his herd after he bought 240 autumn calving cows in mid-2016 from Southland farmer Alfons Zeestraten . MPI confirmed this month that Zeestraten's farm had the earliest known M bovis infection.

The cattle were then transported and distributed to his farms a fortnight later.

"In December 2017 I got a phone call from Alfons Zeestraten that he's been diagnosed with [M] bovis and I thought, I should get a call [from the MPI] within the next few days."

The MPI call arrived six weeks later that he might have the disease.

Tests cleared the herd on his Maungatautari farm and initially a Roto-o-Rangi property was also negative.

"The farm I am involved with in Roto-o-Rangi is in same boat - nothing on the swabs, the blood tests were that some animals were positive - and then three weeks ago, all of a sudden there was a positive bovis test on the bulk milk."

Smit leases the farm and was part owner of the herd along with two others.

Further testing the following week was mixed, but since then, all tests for that farm had come back positive. Smit said the 330-cow herd at the Roto-o-Rangi farm was "super healthy", producing high volumes of milk at a veterinarian cost of $46 a cow.

"As far as I am concerned [there is] nothing to see."

Smit said the positive test was an initial shock for the farmer who ran the farm, but he was coping well. His other two farms remain under restricted notice, which restricted the movement of cattle off his farm.  MPI will continue to test Smit's cows and the milk leaving his farms.

Getting information out of the MPI had been hugely frustrating, he said.

"The paper wall from the MPI is just a disaster."

He told farmers the rules were confusing for transporting cull cows from his farm to meat processors and his cattle were stuck on a transport truck for 14 hours in the summer heat while the paperwork was sorted.

"That was probably the most upsetting experience for me," he said.

"As you can probably understand I'm fairly frustrated with the MPI. Where this is going, I don't know, I might have culled the positive [M] bovis cows already.

"I don't know where this is going to end and I think they will continue with eradication. In my opinion they won't get it under control, it's too far spread and they don't know where everything is gone."

He received an ovation from the crowd with several thanking him for speaking out.

MPI officials did not respond to Smit's criticisms at the meeting.

The meeting was organised by industry groups and MPI to update farmers with the latest information on the spread of the disease. There was also a brief moment of drama when an elderly woman collapsed and had to be taken away in an ambulance. 

Questions were taken from farmers seeking clarification about how the disease had spread, its impact and what they could do to protect themselves and their animals.

Cabinet meets on Monday to decide whether to pursue with full scale eradication or long term management of the disease. So far, the disease is confirmed on 37 properties with 73 farms on a restricted place notice.

MPI head of Biosecurity New Zealand Roger Smith said he knew communities were split over the two options. Cabinet will make its decision based on all of the best science and advice available.

"We have tried to bring all of that information together and provide it to government. In the end that government has that information, in the end it will go through the Cabinet committee process ...and they will look at all of the information and make a decision."