M. Bovis: lessons learned and the way forward

M. Bovis: lessons learned and the way forward
Katie Milne, Federated Farmers National President.

What must have become patently clear to everyone over the last few weeks is that Mycoplasma Bovis is just as much about the impact on people, communities and the nation as it is about cattle.
Mycoplasma Bovis’ outbreak in New Zealand is also very much to do with our Island’s biosecurity and ability to respond quickly and decisively to a threat on our ‘rock star’ economy.
While there have been other incursions damaging to New Zealand agriculture in the past, such as Pea weevil, Velvetlef and Psa with Kiwifruit, they were localised and didn’t have the ability to spread in the same way that Bovis does.
This incursion is New Zealand wide with the potential to spread like an undetected malignant cancer.
Up until late May there was uncertainty as to whether the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) would shift to managing the outbreak or eradicate infected cattle. Some 26,000 cattle had already been earmarked for culling, about half of which had already been sent to the abattoirs.
Farmers, both men and women, have worn their distress on their sleeves, shedding tears on national television at the prospect of their heavily pregnant and productive dairy cows being carted off to the works for slaughter.
On May the 28th the Government announced its decision to continue with its attempt to completely eradicate the bacterial disease, slaughtering an additional 126,000 cattle, with most work completed over one to two years and the potential to shave $1.2 billion off New Zealand’s bottom line over a 10 year period.
Federated Farmers National President Katie Milne explains that some farmers impacted by Bovis may be allowed to milk through this season, cull in the autumn, then let the farm rest for a couple of months before re-stocking, if they already have strict biosecurity around their farm preventing interaction with neighbouring animals.
“Some farmers won’t want that – they will just want to cull their cows now or at the earliest possible time and move on. That can be achieved by working with the farmers.”
Katie says there is a fair amount of stigma with Bovis that needs to be stamped out, because it is creating fearfulness with farmers not wanting to buy or trade from certain areas because they might import Bovis to their farm.
“So that’s part of the reason why it’s so important we have a good crack at eradication. Mycoplasma Bovis is a biosecurity incursion that has entered the country somehow – no-one knows how, yet. For farmers who are affected, it’s not their fault that it has come in.
Even though NAIT (National Animal Identification and Tracing) hasn’t been up to scratch and all the people haven’t done all the things that they should have, the price that they’re paying in their lives through no fault of their own is pretty destructive.” Every cloud, no matter how black, has a silver lining.
Katie believes that Bovis is the catalyst for everyone getting on the same page and trying to work effectively and effi ciently to achieve the best outcomes for the farming community and country.
As distressing and unpleasant as the disease is, Mycoplasma Bovis has presented an opportunity for the Ministry of Primary Industries and other agencies to reflect upon New Zealand’s biosecurity measures along with strategies for addressing any outbreak and beef them up where they are found wanting.
Katie is very clear – Bovis has been a wakeup call for New Zealanders to cherish our natural biosecurity – the ocean around us – enhance it and do everything we can to protect it.
“It has highlighted gaps in the systems on-farm that need fi xing immediately and where NAIT needs improvement, so that if we had a worse incursion—god forbid— we’re better prepared. The joys and luck of being an Island nation has meant that we have got away with a lot of stuff for a long time. If I was in Europe, the back of my farm could be a whole different country.”
New Zealand is the fi rst country in the world to ever attempt eradication of Mycoplasma Bovis. New Zealand is once again the pioneer. “A number of countries are watching pretty closely and wondering whether they will follow our lead,” explains Katie.
“They will know that extra money is going into Massey University to develop better testing because that is going to be key going forward. If we can get the Bovis testing better that is certainly something that will get the attention of other countries.”
Over the past few weeks, with the approach of Gypsy Day and the start of the new dairy season, there has been much talk in the media about the fate of the sharemilking community, which has thrived as a vital part of New Zealand dairy farming for generations.
Richard McIntyre, Federated Farmers Sharemilkers Section Chairman, says that while sharemilkers have obviously been impacted by Bovis he wants to dispel any myth that Bovis will put an end to sharemilking.
“This is just another challenge that sharemilkers face, which we will overcome. It will change what farm owners see as being desirable—it won’t just be about BW (Breed Worth) and PW (Production Worth), it will take into account biosecurity as well. We’re going to see farm owners asking a lot more questions about the biosecurity history of the sharemilkers herd – questions like where the herd came from, how it was made up, and what biosecurity practices were in place in the previous farm.”
Richard says farm owners will understandably want to see a herd that has been well put together and not sourced from many different farms around the country. He believes there will be more value to the sharemilker operating a more closed herd practice.
Equally, the sharemilker is entitled to ask questions of the farm owners in respect to their biosecurity practices, such whether there is double fencing and planting around farm boundaries.
“So there will be a lot more conversation around biosecurity and a lot more importance placed on it in sharemilking contracts going forward.
Trading stock – selling surplus cows and buying in replacements – has also been a common practice by sharemilkers. Currently the sharemilker can make those decisions, but those decisions could have a detrimental impact on the farm owners business if disease was brought onto the farm.”
This article was brought to you in association with the following businesses…

Related Posts