NZ Farmer - Uncertainty around M bovis remains for Waikato farmers


 New Zealand has entered uncharted territory in its decision to attempt M bovis eradication, and as Gerald Piddock writes, farmers and regulators will need to work together to navigate the difficult road ahead. 

"If you are looking for certainty, you'll be disappointed."

It was a prophetic warning from Biosecurity New Zealand director of response Geoff Gwyn when he spoke to about 250 worried Waikato farmers attending a meeting on Mycoplasma bovis in Morrinsville.

"I know the desire for information is high," he said.

After a brief update, the meeting was opened up for questions, which ranged from biosecurity and sanitation of stock trucks and farm machinery to compensation and Nait.

Many of the questions during the two-hour meeting were for advice on how to keep their farms free of the disease during calving and calf rearing, buying service bulls and the logistics around bobby calf collections.

Speaking afterwards, a group of farmers said it had done little to re-assure them, but recognised it was an unprecedented situation for the Ministry for Primary Industries and they were doing all they could.

"Definitely worried. There are a lot of unknowns," one said.

There appeared to be a lack of practical knowledge among the MPI officials about the day to day realities of farming.

"There were a quite a few questions that they were scratching their heads," another said.

It was the first of two meetings held in Waikato on June 8. A second meeting was held in the afternoon in Te Awamutu. The meetings were designed to provide practical steps for farmers to reduce the risk of getting M bovis.

Gwyn believed they were making progress in eradicating the disease after simplifying their process once a farm was placed under a notice of direction.

This had helped the number of properties under a notice of direction from 287 to 136.

"What it is allowing us to do is very quickly determine disease status. We're only ever one find away from being in the crap, but at the moment we seem to be winning the battle.

"We have a hell of a job ahead of us and it is a team game. The reality is we can't do it on our own, you can't do it on our own. We need to help each other."

There were 70 farms under a restricted place notice since the disease was found, but 15 had been revoked, 36 farms seen as infected properties with eight being revoked.

Culling had taken place on 27 farms, with 24,500 animals sent to slaughter.

Gywn guaranteed more herds would be found to have the disease, "but hopefully it's not too many".

 Three properties in Waikato were under a restricted place notice and one confirmed as infected. At the time of the meeting, animals were being moved off that infected farm for slaughter.

"We have a number of farms up here that we are looking at, but none have been placed under any form of regulatory control. They have had a risk event, but it's a low risk."

Farmers should have some level of comfort that as long as they were sensible, it should be business as usual for them, he said.

On compensation claims, Gwyn said the process had not been fast enough, "and I take accountability for that".

"We are getting better."

He said they had the objective to get money to people within four days as a partial cull payment long as the farmer had the right information at hand.

There would be another large-scale milk test across all dairy farms this spring, along with test samples of drystock cattle when slaughtered.

Gwyn said those results would be a strong indicator of whether they were winning the battle against eradication.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said the disease's discovery was "a wake-up call for us all".  He said it had been a steep learning curve for himself and the MPI.

In responding to a question about advice around the risk of buying bulls this season, he said if the industry was going to beat the disease, farmers and bull breeders had to trust one another.

"In preventing unwanted spread, we have to trust the people who are selling us the bull."