Rural round-up

September 1, 2018

Waimea dam project may be refloated – Cherie Sivignon:

The Waimea dam project may be refloated with a revamped funding model that lowers the estimated cost for ratepayers.

Tasman district councillors look likely to be asked at an extraordinary full council meeting on Thursday to change the “no” vote they made on Tuesday and instead, agree to proceed with the dam project.

However, the issue is scheduled to be discussed behind closed doors although the high public interest is recognised with time allowed in the public forum section of the meeting for people to speak for or against the project. . .

Van Leeuwens face sell-up threat – Annette Scott:

The stress of battling Mycoplasma bovis and trying to keep a multi-million dollar farm business afloat has hit hard for South Canterbury dairy farmers Aad and Wilma van Leeuwen.

The couple blame the Ministry for Primary Industries for the impact on their business as they now face the threat of having to sell farms because of what they see as MPI’s bungling of compensation. . .

Lynda Coppersmith appointed first female chief executive of NZ Young Farmers

A tech-savvy business leader with a passion for the primary industries has been appointed to the top job at NZ Young Farmers.

Lynda Coppersmith, 48, was one of a strong line up of candidates vying for the sought-after chief executive’s position.

“I’m really excited that I’m going to be working in the primary industries again,” she said. . .

LIC introduces world leading measures to combat M. Bovis:

LIC, the largest supplier of artificial breeding services to New Zealand’s dairy farms, is introducing daily testing of bull semen to combat the threat of the Mycoplasma bovis cattle disease.

The daily testing regime is part of a raft of new measures that LIC has put in place to help protect against the Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis) outbreak and will give its 10,000 farmer customers additional reassurance this mating season. . .

Annabel Bulk announced as Bayer Young Viticulturist of the Year 2018:

Congratulations to Annabel Bulk who has become the Bayer Young Viticulturist of the Year 2018. Ms Bulk was representing Central Otago and is Assistant Viticulturist at Felton Road.

She is thrilled to have won this prestigious title and delighted that all her hard work over the last few years has paid off. She is very passionate about viticulture and has proved she has the skills and knowledge to become one of the New Zealand wine industry’s future leaders. Ms Bulk is delighted she will be taking the trophy back to Central Otago. This is only the second time it has been won by someone in this region – Nick Paulin won the competition in 2011. . .

Robotics Plus appoints CEO as demand grows for agricultural automation:

Robotics Plus, a New Zealand agricultural robotics and automation company, today announced it has appointed Dr Matt Glenn as the company’s chief executive officer. The move comes after a period of accelerated growth for Robotics Plus fuelled by industry demand for its innovative horticulture automation technologies.

“The company is growing strongly and is well funded, so now is the right time to add a professional chief executive to lead our high calibre team. We are very pleased to have attracted someone of Matt’s calibre, he brings over 20 years of experience in business management and the commercialisation of science and technology,” says Steve Saunders, Co-Founder and Chairman of Robotics Plus, who had held the role of Acting CEO. Mr Saunders will remain an Executive Director to focus on the strategy and establishment of a US subsidiary. . .

Agriculture gearing up for “fourth industrial revolution”:

The agricultural industry is gearing up for the “fourth industrial revolution”, where machines will be replacing humans in “thinking” as well as “doing” roles.

This is according to Andy Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England, who spoke to BBC Radio 4 about the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).

Although Mr Haldane has predicted that up to 50% of all jobs could be lost to new technologies, in the next four decades agri-tech will need considerable investment before it can address the labour shortage in agriculture. . .

 

 


Rural round-up

April 12, 2018

Van Leeuwen owner awaits M.bovis compo, says MPI like a ‘slow machine’ –  Rebecca Howard:

(BusinessDesk) – Aad Van Leeuwen is still waiting for compensation from the Ministry for Primary Industries more than nine months after he reported the outbreak of Mycoplasma bovis in his South Canterbury herds.

“There was an advance made a couple of months ago covering barely 20 percent of all the stock but the remaining more than 80 percent has not arrived yet and there are continuous questions coming (from MPI) that have all been answered,” the owner of Van Leeuwen Dairy Group told BusinessDesk. Compensation for the stock alone is around $3 million and doesn’t include anything else such as milk loss, he said. . . 

Farmer research highlights hill country risks and opportunities :

Farmers from Canterbury and Manawatu have shared their stories on their hill country development experiences with research company UMR through an anonymous survey, as part of a research project commissioned by Environment Canterbury, and supported by Beef & Lamb New Zealand and Federated Farmers (South Canterbury).

The in-depth interviews were undertaken to understand current hill country development practices, as Environment Canterbury considers approaches to help farmers determine whether and how to develop their hill country pastures.

Some sheep and beef farmers are improving hill country productivity by planting older hill country pastures with higher producing pasture species. This commonly involves one or more years in winter feed, and creates an increased risk of sediment losses during this period. . .

Gibbs family meet environmental challenges of coastal property – Esther Taunton:

Farming on the South Taranaki coast has its environmental challenges but the Gibbs family tackle them head on.

The regional winners of the 2018 Ballance Farm Environment Awards, Grant, Dinny and Leedom Gibbs of the Gibbs G Trust milk 435 cows on a 122-hectare farm five kilometres south of Manaia.

Steep cliffs form the southern boundary of the property, which is exposed to wind and “devastating” salt spray. . .

Government should commit to rural communities:

National is urging the Government to support the Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand (RHAANZ) with ongoing funding, National Party associate spokesperson for Health Dr Shane Reti and National Party spokesperson for Rural Communities Matt King say.

“National recognises that rural communities in New Zealand have different needs and face special challenges, especially when it comes to accessing health services,” Dr Reti says.

“We support the RHAANZ’s request for ongoing operating funding outside their existing contracts to ensure that rural communities have access to the services that they need. . . 

NZ ahead of UK sheep genetics – Colin Ley:

New Zealand’s sheep genetics are way ahead of those in Britain, Scotland-based NZ agribusiness consultant Tim Byrne says.

As a senior consultant with Dunedin’s AbacusBio Byrne opened the company’s first European office in June last year to more effectively service British and European Union clients while also seeking to access new areas of agri-tech development in Europe.

While fully convinced that NZ sheep farmers hold a clear genetics advantage over their British counterparts he’s not so sure Kiwi producers are striking a sufficiently strong profile on environmental management issues. . . 

What does added value mean?:

Outsiders commentating on the New Zealand meat industry often confidently pronounce the sector needs to ‘add value’ to the products, but what exactly is added-value, who are you adding value for and who is getting the value? It depends who you talk to.

Meat is a nutritious, and most would say essential, base ingredient in a modern healthy diet – to be eaten in moderation – for end-users around the world.

To get maximum prices, the base material – the meat – needs to be consistently tender, juicy, sized and available all year round. Meeting those demands – producing healthy animals on pasture to precise specification – adds value for a red meat farmer, who earns more money for a premium product.

The consumer might say added-value is something that helps daily life, so increasing the speed of preparation, recipe choice, and portion control might all feature in the added-value mix they will pay more for. . . 


Rural round-up

February 10, 2018

Claims costs soar – Annette Scott:

Farmers have so far lodged 44 Mycoplasma bovis compensation claims with the Ministry for Primary Industries.

While MPI would not give the total value of the claims farmer Aad van Leeuwen said his claim so far was for $4.5 million and that was likely to be tripled.

And despite the law saying compensation for losses made as a result of MPI exercising its powers should leave farmers no worse off, the ministry was likely to make offers to farmers even when they could document actual loss figures.

There is also little likelihood of payments being made quickly. . .

Labour’s 100 days fails farmers:

Labour’s first 100 days in Government has earnt it a dismal report card as far as farmers are concerned, National’s Primary Industries spokesperson Nathan Guy says.

“The Labour-led coalition has been in government for over 100 days now, yet all they have to show for it is the announcement of a series of expensive reviews and rebrands all the while staying silent on the big issues facing the sector right now.

“The minister Damien O’Connor is raiding $17 million out of the Primary Growth Partnership fund to rebrand MPI, at the expense of vitally important research and development funding – which is now being put on hold. . .

Animal genetics ‘Olympics’ a first for NZ:

About 1000 people will this month travel to New Zealand for three prestigious animal recording and genetics conferences.
For the first time, the World Congress on Genetics Applied to Livestock Production (WCGALP) will hold its four-yearly conference in NZ.

The congress will be combined with the annual conferences for the International Committee for Animal Recording (ICAR) and Interbull – the leading event for research and development in animal improvement, milk testing, DNA parentage analysis, genomics and genetics. . . 

Labour of love for the environment:

Protecting and nurturing the environment for our future generations is a key commitment in the refreshed strategy, Dairy Tomorrow. Many farmers already have their sleeves rolled up doing inspirational environmental work throughout New Zealand. They include third generation dairy farmer Andy Palmer.

It was a chance remark he made back in the late ‘90s that got Andy started on what has become a labour of love spanning two decades. And it’s a passion that’s resulted in an extraordinary legacy of lush riparian planting of native species on his farm near Temuka, which he owns with wife Sharon Collett. . .

Data from new smart sensors can help growers drive yields and cut costs:

Cutting-edge wireless sensor technology now available to UK growers that measures precise humidity, moisture and temperature points, is set to equip farmers with the data they need to help drive improvements throughout their businesses.

Agriculture is becoming increasingly data-driven, and sensing technology is becoming instrumental to the way farmers grow crops.

Access to precise, detailed data is helping farmers to make better, more informed decisions: tailoring cultivation, avoiding produce and crop damage, and reducing costs. . .

Rights granted for peach variety – Sally Brooker:

A new variety of peach has been bred by North Otago orchardists Helen Brookes and Terry Fowler.

The couple achieved the feat at their smallholding at Georgetown, just east of Duntroon, in the Waitaki Valley. They have been granted plant variety rights from the Intellectual Property Office for their ”Sweet Perfection” peach.

The orchard was more of a horticultural interest than a commercial venture, Dr Brookes said.

”We used to and still get a number of visits from organisations to see what we do here. . .


Rural-round-up

January 21, 2018

Perendale tops sale at $8,600 – Sally Rae:

South Otago farmers Howie and Marion Gardner topped the South Island ram fair in Gore this week, selling a Perendale ram for $8600.

It was bought by the McKelvie family, from Wyndham, and Mike McElrea, from Edievale.

It was a solid sale for Perendales as 37 rams sold for an average of $2686. Richard and Kerry France, from Moa Flat, achieved the second-top price, $8500, for a ram sold to Fernvale Genetics.

Carrfields Otago genetics representative Roger Keach said the  two-day sale was sound but not spectacular, with a lot of good rams not finding homes. . . 

Increase in farm sales bucks trend – Nicole Sharp:

Southland was one of two regions with increased farm sales at the end of 2017.

Data released by the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) showed for the three months ended November 2017, Southland had seven more farm sales than in the same period in 2016.

Taranaki was the  only other region to record an increase, with one more farm sale for the three months ended November 2017 than for the same period in 2016.

REINZ rural spokesman Brian Peacocke said while the sales volume for the three-month period ended November 2017 showed a significant easing from the same period in 2015 and 2016, the figures, except for Southland and Taranaki, reflected the anticipated increase in volumes from the previous month of October for dairy, finishing and grazing properties. . . 

Farmers Fast Five: David Clark – Claire Inkson:

Where we ask a farmer five quick questions about farming, and what agriculture means to them. Today we talk to Mid Canterbury Proud Farmer David Clark.

1. How long have you been farming?
I grew up in the North Island and left school at the end of the 6th Form at a time when farming in New Zealand was very tough coming out of the ’80s downturn. I was very fortunate to be employed by the Cashmore Family at Orere, SE of Auckland. It was during this time that my employers showed me by example that there was a future in farming if you worked hard and did things well, this set me on my course.

2. What sort of farming were you involved in?
My parents had been both Town Milk Dairy and Sheep and Beef Farmers and I was determined to make a start for myself so started contract fencing which then led into a wider range of Agricultural Contracting activities. In 1994 my parents sold their farm and I sold my contracting business and we pooled our resources and purchased a dryland sheep property at Valetta, inland Mid Canterbury. . . 

Barn farmer got the very best advice – Nigel Malthus:

Pareora dairy farmer Peter Collins has paid tribute to the man at the centre of the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak in helping him set up his huge new dairy barn system.

“I was very lucky to have Aad Van Leeuwen to help me with it,” says Collins.

Collins converted his 800ha farm 10km south of Timaru about three years ago and built the 1200-capacity freestall barn two years ago. The farm now milks 1200 cows, including some winter milkers, and supplies the Oceania Dairy milk powder plant at Glenavy.

With the efficiencies afforded by the barn they are on track to produce 600kgMS/cow this season. . .

Record temperatures bring challenges for livestock and farmers:

With New Zealand experiencing record-breaking heatwaves this summer, AgResearch scientists say farmed animals can be susceptible and the pressure is on farmers to manage it.

The extreme temperatures across the country include the hottest recorded temperature in Dunedin and Invercargill over recent days. The increased heat and humidity raises issues of not only the welfare of livestock, but also production from those animals.

Fortunately extensive research over the last 15 years at AgResearch into dairy cows, and how they cope with the heat, has provided important insights for animal management, says senior scientist Dr Karin Schütz. . . 

Fonterra welcomes research findings that milk matters for healthy Kiwi kids:

Fonterra welcomes the findings of a Massey University that show a high proportion of young Kiwi kids are getting the goodness of dairy nutrition by drinking milk.

The research, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, showed 88 per cent of young children in New Zealand regularly consume cow’s milk and there was no relationship between full-fat milk consumption and the risk of children being overweight from drinking it.

Fonterra General Manager Nutrition Angela Rowan said the Co-operative supports the Ministry of Health guidelines which recommend reduced and low fat varieties for those two years and older. . . 

ASX-listed Bod Australia signs deal to produce hemp-based mānuka honey – Sophie Boot:

(BusinessDesk) – ASX-listed Bod Australia has signed an agreement with mānuka honey producer Manuka Pharma to produce a hemp-based honey product line.

Bod, a developer and distributor of cosmetics and natural medicines, is aiming to develop a range of over-the-counter and therapeutic products using cannabis extracts. It says it’s building a sustainable, multi-faceted cannabis business through a deal with Swiss manufacturer Linnea Natural Pharma Solutions. The honey agreement will see Manuka Pharma source, develop and manufacture the product, with Bod then importing the honey to Australia and packaging it for sale. . .

 


Could both be right?

January 12, 2018

The Ministry of Primary Industries is frustrated with farmers’ response to Mycoplasma bovis:

Farmers are being told to keep better records of livestock movements.

It follows another confirmed case of cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis, this time on an Ashburton farm.

The disease has been found on 14 farms, all but one are in the South Island.

Ministry for Primary Industries response incident controller David Yard said farmers have a poor record of compliance with the national livestock tracing scheme.

He said that’s making for a lengthy search for the disease on other properties.

“It’s proving extremely challenging for us to identify where all the animal movements are being made so we have to go and interview every farmer in detail to see if they can recall who they sold animals to and who they received.” . . 

MPI is frustrated with farmers and the farmer on whose property Mycoplasma bovis was first identified is frustrated with MPI:

. . .  Glenavy dairy farmer Aad van Leeuwen, who owns the farms where the disease was first identified in New Zealand – and has had 4000 cattle culled – said he believed it had been in the country for years.

After going to the United States to learn about the disease, which was prevalent in many other countries, he advised the ministry four months ago to adopt a rigorous nationwide bulk milk testing programme to determine how widespread it was.

”It’s made out to be such a terrible thing, but it’s very, very manageable; it’s been here for a long time already; it is worldwide,” he said. ”So, instead of ripping communities apart, sending people broke … I would say this madness needs to stop.

”It was only before Christmas that they were trying to link all these farms to us, which is absolute rubbish. There’s no link whatsoever to us. . .

‘Yesterday, MPI response incident controller David Yard told the Otago Daily Times the scheme ”if used effectively” was ”the most useful tool to identify where the disease ‘could’ be”. Yet he said the latest case was identified through bulk milk testing.

”MPI is working with the dairy industry to extend this bulk milk testing … nationally.”

It’s possible that both are right.

There are problems with the NAIT scheme. Not all farmers are recording animal movements promptly and correctly and the grapevine says inaccuracies and incomplete records aren’t only at the farmers’ end.

But it is also possible that Mycoplasma bovis has been in New Zealand for years and it is only because a vet went further in searching that it was identified on van Leeuwen’s farms.

Testing animals isn’t 100% reliable, it can result in false negatives. Testing  milk is a much better way to identify infected stock and it needs to be done nation-wide.

That’s the best way of establishing the extent of the disease and getting rid of it.

Bulk testing of milk could also settle the question of where the disease came from and how wide-spread it is.

 


Rural round-up

December 23, 2017

Van Leeuwen owner ‘devastated’ by cattle disease outbreak, says business could go under – Rebecca Howard:

(BusinessDesk) – Aad van Leeuwen found himself at the centre of a storm when he reported an outbreak of Mycoplasma bovis in his South Canterbury herds but said the bacterial cattle disease didn’t originate on his farms and if government compensation doesn’t come through soon his operation could go under.

“It’s been devastating,” the owner of Van Leeuwen Dairy Group told BusinessDesk. “We are struggling at the moment. Because we notified the disease we are eligible for compensation, but it’s a battle. It’s not coming through. The government is very slow and confusing. This could put us under if it doesn’t come through. It’s as simple as that.”

Van Leeuwen Dairy is a large-scale, high-performance dairy business in the South Island with 16 farms and associated business, including silage. . . 

ANZCO is now 100% Japanese owned – Allan Barber:

One of Japan’s two largest meat processing and marketing companies, Itoham Yonekyu Holdings, has received OIO consent to increase its shareholding in ANZCO Foods from 65% to 100%. It will acquire the shares currently held by ANZCO’s management (18.24%) and Japanese food company Nissui (16.76%) as a carefully planned transition which will see founder and chairman, Sir Graeme Harrison, retire at the company’s AGM in March.

Itoham Foods have held shares in ANZCO since 1995 when they combined with ANZCO management to complete a buyout of the New Zealand Meat Producers’ Board, forerunner of Beef + Lamb NZ, in 1995, having formed a 50/50 JV with ANZCO in 1989 to establish Five Star Beef Limited with its large scale feedlot near Ashburton. Nissui, a joint owner of Sealord with Maori, have also been involved since the beginning, so this latest transaction means the end of a 28 year association. . . 

South Canterbury blackcurrant farm cashes in on superfood buzz – Adriana Weber:

A South Canterbury blackcurrant farm is cashing in on the berry’s “superfood” status.

Tony Howey and his wife bought a blackcurrant orchard near Pleasant Point, about two hours south of Christchurch, 12 years ago.

In the past few years in particular, and since converting their farm into an organic one, their business and brand ViBERi has taken off.

Mr Howey said since blackcurrants were high in Vitamin C and antioxidants, they were able to market their products for their health benefits. . . 

Community calls for more drought support:

National Party Spokesperson for Rural Communities Barbara Kuriger has backed the call for the Government to declare a medium scale adverse event to better support those affected by the rapidly emerging drought conditions in Taranaki.

“Taranaki Regional Council have today met with organisations such as DairyNZ, Federated Farmers, Fonterra, Rural Advisory Group, Rural Support Trust, Taranaki Veterinary Association and Beef & Lamb NZ, with those organisations all calling on the Government to declare a medium scale adverse event for the whole Taranaki region,” Mrs Kuriger says. . . 

Rural Support Trust Making a Difference:

National Party Spokesperson for Rural Communities Barbara Kuriger has thanked the Rural Support Trust for the care and support they extend to people who are facing challenges and encourages those in need to reach out.

“This year has seen a number of challenges for the rural community. The Rural Support Trust has worked tirelessly to help support those who are in challenging times.

“The current extreme weather conditions across the country present hard times for farmers for a number of reasons, especially due to the need to source feed for animals. . . 

Allbirds expands to Australia, eyes further global markets for 2018 – Tina Morrison:

(BusinessDesk) – Allbirds, the merino wool shoe company co-founded by former New Zealand soccer star Tim Brown, has expanded into its third global market, launching in Australia last month, and it’s eyeing up more markets for next year.

San Francisco-based Allbirds started selling its minimalist woollen sneakers direct to consumers in March 2016 and has online operations in the US and New Zealand, shops in San Francisco and New York, and a steady stream of pop-up outlets. It began selling online in Australia on Nov. 21 in response to customer demand from the world’s biggest merino producing country. . . 

Export log prices hit new record on ocntinued strong demand from China:

(BusinessDesk) – New Zealand export log prices edged higher to a new record, buoyed by continued strong demand from China, a weaker currency and historically low shipping rates.

The price for A-Grade export logs reached $129 a tonne, up from $128 a tonne last month, and $127 a tonne the month earlier, marking the highest level since AgriHQ began collecting the data in 2008, according to the agricultural market specialist’s monthly survey of exporters, forest owners and saw millers. All of the main log grades tracked by AgriHQ either held steady or lifted as much as $2 a tonne on the previous month, AgriHQ said. . . 

Sealord operating profit up:

Sealord Group Ltd has reported a profit from continuing operations of $21.8M for its financial year ended 30 September 2017.

Net Profit Before Tax from continuing operations of $28.2M was + 10.2% ahead of the previous year.

This was before a net cost related to discontinued operations of $3.2M. . . 


Compensation necessary for disclosure

November 9, 2017

Aad and Wilma van Leeuwen have been living in a nightmare since Mycoplasma bovis was discovered in some of their cows:

The cost of Mycoplasma bovis could be a $50 million to $100m hit to Aad and Wilma van Leeuwen’s business, that’s if it continues longer term.

But that doesn’t count the cost of the heartache to them, their workers and community.

When they notified animal health issues in their dairy herd they believed they were doing the right thing for their people, their community, the Government and the wider dairy industry.

Now they are not so sure.

“In fact, to date, the way this response has been managed we feel has caused us and many other farmers in the district to be alienated and if the same circumstances were to recur we would have to seriously reconsider doing what we did,” Aad van Leeuwen said.

“It’s been a three-month nightmare and it’s far from over yet,” the couple said. . . 

The couple’s plight hasn’t been helped by the spread of rumours based on ignorance and misinformation.

Looking back over the three months as several of the group’s farms now face eradication of all cows, the van Leeuwens harbour much disappointment over how the response was managed.

“It has been horrendous on us, our staff and our contract and sharemilkers.

“The impact has been devastating on all our people and for many it will mean the end forever – their businesses and their reputations have been destroyed.”

The near 90 staff had just had enough and being associated with a group farm had tainted them for the future, van Leeuwen said.

“And it shouldn’t be. There’s no need for it. There is a dirty stigma attached to it all now. People talk like it’s a plague. It’s nothing like that at all.”

He laid blame on an overdose of misinformation and people not knowing what they were doing.

He was critical of MPI’s response time.

“It took them five days to find out where our farms were and 10 days to put their feet on the first infected farm.

“We had the cows well sorted and separated by then – thank God this was not foot and mouth,” he said.

“We were very disappointed with comments from the media that targeted the robots (indoor system). We asked MPI, through the media, to clear this up and they never did. Their statements made it worse at the last public meeting.

“To get it right the initial outbreak was over just three farms, two outdoor grass and one what we call in-out, in over autumn and winter for shelter,” van Leeuwen said. 

The outbreak on the first infected property was the in-out property but the cows were outside calving at the time.

It linked to two further farms, both outdoors.

 Other rumours linked the outbreak to imported semen but the van Leeuwens don’t import semen directly. It would be very, very unlikely that only their stock was infected by semen from New Zealand suppliers.

But, ironically, as MPI put key emphasis on doing 39,000 blood tests, the blood testing and its lengthy process had been deemed unreliable, van Leeuwen said.

“MPI indicated that to us. They have admitted what we know too from our research of other countries that bulk milk testing is the best testing.

“That has caused a massive issue for us as we have a lot of young stock obviously not milking so blood tested and it’s unreliable.”

The van Leeuwens had asked MPI why more bulk milk testing was not being done, not just on their herds but also regionally and nationwide.

“We haven’t had an answer but we believe there seems to be no logic in what they are doing with blood testing.

“We got stuck in straight away and talked to the Aussies. They told us the best way was to bulk milk test at least two samples within one week from the same herd three days apart to catch the shedders. We are way past that now and believe this wasn’t done.

“It’s been so frustrating. We know our business, we have researched this and done everything possible to help and we have co-operated 100% but they have not listened or picked up on our input.

“We have taken the hit, for our people, our district and the NZ dairy industry.

“We were prepared to do that but now we are concerned that it will all be wasted.

“It is our belief that Mycoplasma bovis is in NZ as it got into our herd somehow and any day it could break out somewhere else and what does MPI do – believe they have it contained but we feel they may be grasping at straws to satisfy public perception.

“No one can deny the fact that it had to come to NZ from somewhere – that is the key to whether they can contain it or not.”

The disease must be somewhere else in New Zealand. It is possible it has been here for some time and gone undetected. It was only diagnosed in van Leeuwen’s stock through their vet’s extra research. (Covered in the ODT here). Other farmers and other vets may well have not recognised the symptoms.

As the first cows went to slaughter (on November 1) in the eradication process of an initial 4000 head of stock, the van Leeuwens were working on the economic analysis of their business going forward.

That included the overall cost of having all the group farms under indefinite lock-down, lost opportunity with young stock, the cost of not being able to use their own bulls, the added cost of having to retain calves and overall loss of production taking in the quarantine period of the properties and herd rebuilding.

“Compensation – we don’t know where the hell we are at.

“They are going to kill our stock but to date there is no proper guided plan for compensation before commencement of killing our stock.

“Depending on whether this disease is found in the robots, it hasn’t been, not yet anyway, we could be looking of anything from $50 million to $100m,” van Leeuwen said.

“They tell us we will be no worse off than when this started but we have nothing on the table as yet to prove this.

“We need compensation guaranteed from day one. The first day of lockdown of the farms has been the start of lost production and income.

“We have had three months of uncertainty and alienation. It’s been too long. We can’t afford to be waiting too long for compensation and while we were able to help keep our people in the saddle through the downturn we can’t do it a second time.

“We have worked 32 years in dairy, 24 in the Waimate district where we have invested heavily in the dairy industry and its processing businesses.

“Now, because of no fault of our own we could hit the wall before Christmas,” van Leeuwen said.

“For too long we have had our hands tied behind our back. We can’t make our own decisions and forward planning – there has been no clear plan from day one and three months down the track we are no further ahead.

“It’s disappointing, it’s devastating and it just should never have got to this.

“The MPI approach needs to change if they want people to notify,” van Leeuwen said.

“On the only positive note – if we do survive this, the VLDG will be Mb-free.

“As for the rest of the country, I can’t say that with any confidence for them,” he said.

If TB is diagnosed in a herd farmers are compensated for any stock that is killed.

That ensures they aren’t disadvantaged by doing the right thing – declaring their stock is infected and co-operating with vets and anyone else involved.

The van Leeuwens and their staff are losing their milking herd, replacement stock and their income.

They have done everything right from the start. They and their staff must be compensated for their own sakes and to ensure that other farmers know that it is safe to do the right thing should their cattle become infected.

Keith Woodford says the Mycoplasma bovis riddle is far from solved:

. . . The whole saga of the outbreak has been poorly communicated.

The starting point for error has been the widely reported falsehood that it is on intensive confinement farms owned by the van Leeuwen Group.   In fact, the disease has not been detected to date on any of the four robot-milked free-stall farms owned by this family. Rather it is on five outdoor farms that they own.

One of the infected farms does have indoor wintering facilities. That farm is on heavy land with two free-stall barns available for wintering and in bad weather. But this is not an intensive farm like in America or much of Europe. These are grazing cows. And the intensity is broadly similar to some hundreds of New Zealand farmers who have off-paddock wintering facilities of various types.   Unlike many New Zealand farms, this farm does milk cows during the winter.

Two of the other infected VLG farms have spring calving and seasonal milking. Another is a dry-stock farm, and the remaining infected farm is a calf-rearing unit.

The media has widely portrayed the van Leeuwen family as so-called rich listers. What has not been portrayed is that this family has got there the hard way. Aad immigrated to New Zealand in 1983, and Wilma’s parents also immigrated from Holland. Aad and Wilma worked their way up the dairy ladder, first as farm workers, then as managers, contract milkers and sharemilkers, and finally as farm owners.

It has been a more than thirty-year journey of hard work, innovation and business acumen. Some of their children are also now involved in the business. 

These are hard working and innovative farmers who have created many jobs and made a significant economic and social contribution to their local community and the wider country.

I have taken an interest in the outbreak since first detected back in July. I contacted the van Leeuwens at that time to try and understand what was happening, and I have stayed in touch. My interest is that of a semi-retired academic who likes to follow issues from an independent perspective. I go wherever the evidence takes me.

Back in August, I wrote an article on  Mycoplasma published in New Zealand Farmer, also at interest.co.nz, and also here at my own site.   At that time, I wrote that “Regardless of whether or not the current outbreak can be contained, and the disease then eradicated, the ongoing risks from Mycoplasma bovis are going to have a big effect on the New Zealand dairy industry”.

I also wrote back then that “If the disease is contained and eradicated, then the industry and governmental authorities will need to work out better systems to prevent re-entry from overseas. And if the disease is not eradicated, then every farmer will have to implement new on-farm management strategies to minimise the effects.”

Those statements remain unchanged some three months later. . . 

My understanding is that there has never been a documented case anywhere in the world of it being transferred in frozen semen, and all imported semen is frozen.

Aad van Leeuwen tells me that the van Leeuwen group has never imported semen themselves. However, like many other farmers, they do purchase semen from the major semen companies. If semen is the source, and the disease is not elsewhere, then the van Leeuwens have been exceedingly unlucky to be the only farmers to be struck. And if that is the case, then a great many other farmers can only thank their lucky stars that it was not them.

Given the lack of evidence for semen being the source, other possibilities need to be considered.

The normal transmission method for Mycoplasma bovis is from animal to animal. That raises the possibility that the original source is a live import. However, the oral advice from MPI (yet to be confirmed in writing) is that there have been no live cattle imported into New Zealand for the last three years.  

Regardless of when animals were last imported into New Zealand, the importer was not the van Leeuwens, and the van Leeuwens have never received live imports on their farms. So once again, if a live import is the source, then the van Leeuwens have been exceedingly unlucky to the recipients of the disease. And what was the path by which it got there?

Molecular biologists may eventually be able to identify the strain of the organism and thereby identify its source as either Australian, which could implicate a live import, or alternatively Europe or the USA, which could implicate semen.

Testing for Mycoplasma bovis is not easy. Testing of individual animals can be by antibody (ELISA) testing of blood, but there are problems of both false positives and false negatives. Bulk tests of milk can be made using sophisticated PCR (polymerase chain reaction) technology that seeks out key DNA sequences, but this will only give positive results if the animals are shedding the bacteria in their milk. With PCR, and with the levels of specificity being used, it needs multiple animals to be shedding before a positive reading is achieved. Swabs of animals can also be taken and tested.

In regard to testing, the bottom line is that no method is reliable by itself and multiple tests are required. The van Leeuwens have experienced this themselves, with one of their herds testing negative on two occasions and only on the third test did a mass of reactors show up. In the periods between the tests, no new animals came onto that farm, so presumably it was there all along from prior to the first testing.

There is now good confidence that all animal movements downstream from the van Leeuwen farms have been traced, and those herds continue to be rigorously tested. However, it is far from clear as to the extent of any upstream testing looking for the original source and dissemination from there.

The VLG-owned herds have been closed herds with no new animals brought in from outside the group for more than three years. However, like probably the majority of New Zealand farms, one sharemilker-owned herd on a VLG property has had animals brought in, and this herd is infected.  This raises the possibility that it first came onto the van Leeuwen farms up to several years ago, but only became evident when it spread into one of the milking herds.

MPI have not been forthcoming as to the upstream (source) testing that has been conducted. But Aad van Leeuwen tells me it is his understanding that MPI upstream testing has not been undertaken looking at source farms going back prior to the start of the 2017 year. If this is correct, then it would seem an important omission.

Although MPI have conducted many thousands of tests, it is not clear as to the proportion of New Zealand’s farms that have undergone any testing, and the level of that testing. Almost certainly, it is only a small proportion of farms that have been tested. MPI have been unable to provide this information to me. And therein lies the uncertainty.

One of the problems we have in New Zealand is that the only Kiwis with Mycoplasma bovis expertise are those who have worked and trained overseas.  I know the van Leeuwens are drawing on overseas expertise, but it is not clear to me as to the extent MPI is benefitting from overseas expertise.

What I am personally hearing from people with overseas Mycoplasma bovis experience is that we should not be confident that we have the disease contained. This is particularly the case given that we really have no idea as to how the disease got here. 

If Mycoplasma is found to be endemic in New Zealand, then it will not be the death knell of the industry. But it will be a big nuisance. And we will undoubtedly need to implement some of the dairy hygiene measures that are typically seen overseas but which are largely ignored in New Zealand. In particular, farmers will need to think carefully about sending their young stock off-farm for grazing with young stock from other farms. Feeding raw (non-pasteurised) milk to calves will also need to be eliminated.   Purchased bulls are another potential source of disease transfer.

Two neighbouring properties are now in lock down because of ‘suspicious’ tests:

However, the farms have not tested positive for the disease, but the ministry said the test results from one of the farms was “suspicious”. . . 

Geoff Gwyn from the Ministry for Primary Industries said as a precaution it put restricted place notices on both the properties, and expected a confirmed test result by the end of the week.

The disease was identified on two other farms several weeks ago and now their is concern about two more. These farmers and their neighbours will now be very nervous.

It would allay one of their fears, and make it much more likely any other farmers with concerns would notify MPI, if there was certainty over fair compensation for loss of stock and income.

Mycoplasma bovis doesn’t infect people and it isn’t nearly as serious as Foot and Mouth disease. But it needs to be taken very seriously.

That includes dealing with the farmers sensitively and fairly and giving them clear and full information on compensation.


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