Expert opinion

Kiwi "Can Do" or bravado?

There’s one topic top of every farmer’s mind in New Zealand at the moment: biosecurity. I wrote about it in a column at the end of July last year, and touched on New Zealand’s first case of Mycoplasma bovis at the time.

A year later and the number of properties where cases have been confirmed has reached 47: that’s 47 farms or, in a few cases smallholdings, that have or will have all their cattle culled, infected and uninfected.

Read Andrew’s column on biosecurity: NZ stock farmers need to up crop biosecurity measures

After some uncertainty, and despite a rising number of cases, on May 28th Government announced it would persevere with eradication, albeit in a “phased” manner. At the time it predicted 152,000 cattle would have to be culled in order to “depopulate” an anticipated 200 farms and smallholdings. 2 months after depopulation, farms are allowed to restock and resume farming. Compensation is being paid for loss of income and the value of stock. The bill’s expected to be NZ$ 880,000 million (apprx £454 mln), with farmer-funded bodies Dairy NZ and Beef + Lamb NZ picking up 32% of that.

New Zealand is aiming for a world first in eradicating cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis but Future Farming correspondent Andrew Swallow thinks it’s a long shot. Photo: Andrew Swallow
New Zealand is aiming for a world first in eradicating cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis but Future Farming correspondent Andrew Swallow thinks it’s a long shot. Photo: Andrew Swallow

Worlds first eradication?

If eradication succeeds, it will be a world first. New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industry (MPI) believes it’s possible because to date, every case has a connection to a previous one, and, by analysing the mutations in the DNA in the strain present in New Zealand, it’s calculated we’re dealing with the results of a single incursion around New Year 2016. That was onto a 2,400-cow dairy farm in Southland. What brought it in will probably never be known for sure, despite investigations involving warranted searches on several premises. What’s worrying is that the number of ‘trace properties’ is now 3,178, and they’re only the ones MPI knows about. Non-compliance with New Zealand’s mandatory beef and deer traceability scheme, introduced in 2012, has been found to be widespread. Most farmers probably knew that. Now the Ministry does too. It’s also admitted it didn’t realise how mobile the South Island cattle herd is. Then there are the waste milk movements. It has been common practice for calf rearers to go round dairy farms collecting milk not fit for sale, including mastitis milk. It’s a sure-fire M bovis transmission pathway, with no formal traceability. I sincerely hope MPI can pull this off, but the odds seem stacked against.

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