6 Mar 2018

M. bovis fears surround upcoming Gypsy Day

1:24 pm on 6 March 2018

A Southland vet says farmers in the region are worried about the spread of the cattle disease when dairy herds are moved around on the upcoming Gypsy Day.

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Photo: RNZ Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Gypsy Day is officially the first of June, and VetSouth director Mark Bryan said almost all the dairy cows in Southland, Otago, and Canterbury will be shifted to new properties for winter grazing or new sharemilking contracts.

The disease mycoplasma bovis has infected 25 farms from Southland to Hawke's Bay, and 43 properties are in quarantine and under movement control.

Many of the infected farms are in Southland, and Mr Bryan said farmers there are unsure what decisions to make for Gypsy Day.

"If your farm is under any form of movement control then you've got that unknown around what happens to these animals come the end of May."

Cattle on restricted properties can be moved under a permit, but farmers have to apply for it which takes time, he said.

"And the graziers themselves will be reluctant to take animals from a farm that is currently under a movement restriction."

Mr Bryan said the main frustration and worry he is hearing from farmers is the feeling of not knowing.

"They don't know what's happening and they don't know when they will know.

MPI are currently testing farms around the country, and have suggested that by the end of March or early April they will be able to give some guidance on whether the disease will be eradicated or not.

"The earlier the better really ... if a grazier has say three or four herds booked in and one of them is from an infected or restricted property and they can't accept them then there needs to be alternative plans in place."

But options for farmers and graziers are few and far between.

"Wintering cows on dairy properties in Southland is really not practical, you make a mess of the place.

"It becomes an animal welfare problem really, these animals have to move off farm, we have to find some form of grazing."

Mr Bryan said the looming Gypsy Day also brings potential issues around farmers reporting the disease.

"My biggest worry is that it will stop farmers coming forward who may have trace properties for example.

MPI is still trying to find farms connected to the infected farms in Winton, he said.

"The request has gone out there for farmers to put their hand up, but with a lot unknown around it ... it makes farmers less likely to actually come forward."

"It's simply not good enough"

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said farmers' neglect of an animal tracking system has made it very hard to combat the crippling cattle disease.

The neglected National Animal Identification and Tracing system is called NAIT.

Mr O'Connor said the vast majority of farmers aren't using it properly.

"If farmers had been fully compliant with NAIT we would have been a lot faster in tracking down possible infected animals, testing them, and then discounting those that weren't infected.

"The absence of that scheme has meant there's discussions at kitchen tables with farmers relying on their memory to try work out where animals have gone - that's simply not good enough"

Most penalties under the NAIT regulations are between $150 and $300 fines, and a few are set at $1000.

Mr O'Connor said the failure by many farmers to use NAIT has made it much harder to fight the disease.

He said at the current focus is on tracking possible infections of mycoplasma bovis, but once the decision has been made on eradication then the ministry will crack down on NAIT.

"We will indeed be penalising farmers that don't comply."

Meanwhile, the government has approved payment of $85 million to fight the disease, in addition to $10m paid in December.

This follows revelations that the Crown would face a bill of $100m for battling the disease and paying compensation.

Part of this cost will be offset by DairyNZ, Beef and Lamb, and the Meat Industry Association funding $11.2m dollars.

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