Rural round-up

July 1, 2019

Climate change should not be blamed on farming alone – Anna Campbell:

My mother has returned from visiting my brothers who live in England. To make that trip, she was responsible for contributing more than three tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere.

After finding this out, my mother who is a farmer, is feeling pretty outraged that in New Zealand farmers are the ones under attack for climate change. She is vowing to fly less and write letters of concern – why is the New Zealand Government so focused on agriculture while tourism flies under the radar – so to speak.

My mother has a point, according to data analysed by Dr Frank Mitloehner, a professor of air quality at the University of California, Davis. He has reviewed the full carbon life cycle of livestock products and transportation and has published in peer-reviewed scientific journals . . .

Successes or failures riding on Lindis minimum flow decision – Sally Rae:

‘‘You don’t just get a free ride here at all.’’

Tarras farmer Jayne Rive sits at the kitchen table of the Cloudy Peak homestead in the Ardgour Valley, her piercing blue eyes ever-animated as she talks about the uncertainty involved with securing irrigation water for the family farming operation.

In late January, Environment Court Judge Jon Jackson adjourned the hearing of, and reserved the court’s decision on an appeal brought by the Lindis Catchment Group and the Otago Regional Council against an ORC decision which, among other things, imposed a minimum flow of 900 litres per second for the Lindis.

The LCG was proposing a 550 litres per second minimum flow, saying that level was crucial to enabling irrigators to have sufficient reliability of supply.

Ms Rive has been part of that group, which represents irrigators using Lindis River water. Going through the process has been ‘‘incredibly worrying, incredibly draining and incredibly frustrating’’. . . 

Breeders seek seed law overhaul – Richard Rennie:

Plant breeders are seeking an overhaul of New Zealand’s plant variety legislation, claiming the existing act risks putting NZ behind the rest of the world in varieties grown or developed here.

New Zealand Grain and Seed Trade Association general manager Thomas Chin said successive governments had dragged their feet when it came to updating this country’s 30-plus year old Plant Variety Rights Act. 

However there was now an opportunity for breeders to push for changes to the act,as the government seeks industry submissions on options to reform it. . . 

Stock agent reflects on varied life – Yvonne O’Hara:

A prostate cancer diagnosis led to Rural Livestock Ltd stock agent Terry Cairns, of Invercargill, making significant changes to his business to ensure job security for those who worked with him.

He has been a stock agent for almost 40 years, but trained as a lawyer, and has driven livestock trucks, worked on farms and worked for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

”I came to the job by a rather circuitous route, leaving school to train as a lawyer, which did not work that well,” Mr Cairns said.

”Roman law, the Goths, the Vandals, the legal system and other things pertinent to the noble profession didn’t hold my attention. . . 

Barn boosts milk take – Samantha Tennent:

Farming on a waterfront comes with flood risks and for Tony and Fran Allcock.

One or two floods each year is the norm.

Their 97-hectare property at Te Rore, west of Hamilton, runs along the Waipa River. It has been in their family for 130 years and Tony is the third generation to farm it.

The soils are heavy, mostly Horotiu sandy loam with some river silt and every winter 8ha goes under water. To help combat the weather the Allcocks built an Aztech cow barn, which they have dubbed the MOO-Tel, in 2013. . . 

Long White Cloud Genetics:

Long White Cloud Genetics is overwhelmed to announce the forming of a South Island based medical cannabis company focused on local production & manufacturing, creating new career opportunities and supporting local communities. Based in the South Island, Canterbury is the backbone of New Zealand’s farming and agriculture industry and is etched deep in its history.

Long White Cloud Genetics is currently in the process of designing and developing a high- tech indoor cultivation facility. Ultimately creating long term career opportunities in South Canterbury, which is home to some of the best farming technology and agricultural research and development. We have strategic partnership opportunities that will allow us to hit turnovers of 20M+ NZD annually which we intend to not only fulfil but to put some of that money back into local community projects and support mental health here in New Zealand. . . 

Can Minnesota save its dairy farms? – Greta Kaul:

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture rolled out a state program that aims to inject cash into the state’s struggling dairy industry.

More than 1,100 Minnesota dairy farms closed up between 2012 and 2017, leaving only about 3,600 farms in an industry beset by years of low milk prices and a long, hard winter that delivered enough snow and wind to collapse the roofs of at least two dozen dairy barns.

The Minnesota Legislature passed the $8 million Minnesota Dairy Assistance, Investment and Relief Initiative (DAIRI) this year, in response to crisis in the dairy industry in Minnesota, the seventh-biggest dairy producer in the United States. . .


Rural round-up

May 11, 2019

Forget the avengers, farmers are the real heroes – Nigel Malthus:

Farmers are the world’s real superheroes, says Rabobank executive Marc Oostdijk.

Launching Rabobank’s recent FoodX programme, which aims to introduce high school students to career paths in the food industry, Oostdijk says world population is expected to reach 9 or 10 billion by 2050.

“That’s massive, and to grow food and fibres for them is a massive challenge.” . . 

Mental health help ‘there if you ask’ – farmer who faced Mycoplasma bovis cull for months:

A Southland farmer whose farm suffered through a cull because of Mycoplasma bovis says emotional support is available for those who need it – especially farmers, who might be scared to ask for help. 

It comes as two senior rural support workers, hired to help farmers cope with losing their stock, quit over what they say has been a poor response by the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI).

Southland farmer Ben Walling told First Up he was forced to cull 1700 calves after his farm became infected. . .

Health bus nearly ready to roll – Yvonne O’Hara:

The new Women’s Health Bus (Te Waka Wahine Hauora) is expected to arrive in the Otago and Southland region next month, service co-founder Dr Helen Paterson, of Dunedin, says.

The non-profit mobile health service has been in the planning stages for about two years, but last year obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Paterson and Junction Health practice co-owner and practice nurse Alice van Zijl, of Cromwell, ordered the purpose-built vehicle from a specialist Whangaparaoa building firm.

Dr Paterson said the health bus would provide women’s health services, including cervical screening and contraception, to women in Otago and Southland’s rural and isolated communities. . .

Frame & Macey: Two-basket approach no free ride for farmers – Dave Frame & Adrian Macey:

A two-basket approach to climate policy is perfectly sensible and would be anything but a free ride to farmers. Recent assertions to the contrary by Jim Salinger and Raymond Desjardins suggest they may have misunderstood both the recent climate science and the policy logic that has led both the Productivity Commission and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment to recommend two-basket approaches.

The first and simplest point to note is that the world has actually used a multi-basket approach to climate policy before. The Montreal Protocol worked pretty well – on some estimates it was more successful at lowering greenhouse gas emissions than the Kyoto Protocol. Montreal was based on a multi-basket approach. There’s nothing inherently better about a one-basket approach to policy, and the reverse is probably true if the residence times of different pollutants span a large range. . .

In a remote South Island valley, birdsong returns – David Williams:

Twenty-one years of intensive pest control in the Landsborough Valley is paying off. David Williams reports.

Colin O’Donnell ambles towards the edge of silver beech forest near the Landsborough River, drawn by the high-pitched, repetitive call of a mohua. It’s a call the Department of Conservation ecologist has been following for more than 30 years.

Ford Flat, overlooked by the Solution Range of mountains, is a common place to wait for the river to recede. In sections of the forest above there’s an ominous ripple of red – signs of a coming mast seeding. Swirling sandflies are ever-present and insistent.

“While it’s there I might just cheat,” O’Donnell says of the chattering mohua, producing from his pocket a portable speaker loaded with bird calls. “It might not work but we’ll give it a go.” . .

Special occasion for fans of hunt – Sally Rae:

He might be ”just a little” over 80 but evergreen Central Otago Hunt master Glynne Smith is showing no signs of slowing down.

Yesterday, Mr Smith was galloping across farmland near Moa Creek, in the Ida Valley, filling the position he has held for the past 30 years.

As master, he was ultimately responsible for the running of the hunt day, and yesterday’s was particularly special for him.

It was the first hunt in Central Otago Hunt’s 30th anniversary programme, which includes four hunts, the South Island hound show and several social functions. . .


Rural round-up

May 5, 2019

Sensible immigration will allow rural communities to flourish – Nick Hanson:

A big shakeup could be coming for New Zealand’s immigration policy.

Many of the proposed changes are sensible and will lead to a simplification of the immigration system, but there is also concern that while the system might be easier to understand, it will be harder, longer and more costly to employ workers from overseas.

Under the proposals, every employer who wishes to employ a migrant must become an accredited employer. In theory, this is good  migrants deserve to come to New Zealand to an employer who treats them well and complies with New Zealand employment law.  . . 

Fonterra could learn lessons in enterprise and growth from Australia’s Wesfarmers – Point of Order:

NZ  co-ops have been  getting  a  bad  media  rap   lately.  Take  Fonterra, for example.  Andrea Fox, one of the  country’s  best-informed journalists  specialising  in agriculture  issues,  started   a  new series in the  NZ  Herald  with the  headline:  “Fonterra: Disappointment and soured  dairy dreams”.

Noting   the dairy goliath had a silver-spoon  birth   nearly  18 years ago she  wrote:

“Today the  co-operative  is looking a bit like  the family’s overweight, lazy teenager  hogging the remote  on the biggest couch in the room And the  credit card bills are coming in”.

After Fonterra posted a historic first net loss of $196m, Fox  says  calls  are heating up  for  the company to be split up  and a  company, perhaps  listed, spun off it, open to outside capital  investment to  chase  high-value product  markets. One of the country’s investment  gurus, Brian Gaynor, says even major shareholders  are telling him it’s  time for  change. . . 

Uncertainty swirls over Mackenzie dairy plan – David Williams:

The legal battle over a large dairy farm planned for the Mackenzie Basin is heading to the High Court. David Williams reports.

The future of the Mackenzie Basin’s Simons Pass Station – a lightning rod for national environmental opposition – remains as unclear as a swirling effluent pond.

Dunedin businessman Murray Valentine has spent 16 years and millions of dollars gathering approvals, court settlements, and building infrastructure for a $100-million-plus dairy development at Simons Pass, near Lake Pukaki. Valentine told Newsroom last year he plans to irrigate 4500 hectares at the property – some of which is Crown lease land – and stock more than 15,000 animals, including 5500 cows. (The average herd size in New Zealand is 431 cows. The national herd is five million milking cows.)

As of late last year, 840 cows were being milked and Valentine says the development is about a quarter finished. . . 

Regional wrap:

Confident sheep and beef farmers are paying top money and have out-bid foresters for land on the North Island’s East Coast. In the South Island apple harvesting’s almost finished in the Nelson Motueka region.

Kaitaia, in Northland’s north, needs a good dose of rain – the five or six millimetres at the weekend didn’t help much.  Where there are wet spots in paddocks new grass is germinating well.

Around Pukekohe it’s been quiet in market gardens because of the school holidays and the working week being interrupted by statutory holidays. Many staff have taken time off. It’s been warmer this week than last and Monday’s 15mm of rainfall has been enough for most crops. . .

Bumper crop of Young Vegetable Growers:

Seven of New Zealand’s best and brightest will vie for the title of Young Vegetable Grower of the Year in a competition in Pukekohe next Friday, 10 May.

The victor will be crowned Young Vegetable Grower of the Year, and move on to the Young Grower national final, to be held in Tauranga in October. There, they will join the winners of the Bay of Plenty, Central Otago, Hawke’s Bay, Nelson, and Gisborne regional fruit-grower events, to compete for the national title of Young Grower of the Year 2019.

Contestants will demonstrate their knowledge and skills around topics vital to the management of a successful horticulture business, including tractor proficiency, sales and marketing, and health and safety. The winner will be decided at an awards dinner on Friday night, where they will speak to an audience from throughout the industry about growing in a climate of change. . . 

Stuart Varney is proud to be a farmer the Fox business star sees a Chinese trade deal coming soon – Betsy Freese:

Stuart Varney has a top-rated market program on television, but he is happiest when he is working on his 1,100-acre tree farm in upstate New York. The host of Varney & Co., weekdays 9 a.m. to noon EDT on FOX Business, is in the midst of his first timber harvest this spring. Born and raised in the U.K., Varney, 70, helped Ted Turner launch CNN in 1980. He became an American citizen in 2015. I caught up with Varney to talk about agriculture, trade deals, and the media.

SF: Tell me about your farm.

SV: It’s lovely rolling hills and forests, a delightful piece of land. It reminds me of my native England. I bought it 18 years ago because I wanted a big piece of land within a reasonable drive of my home in New Jersey. In England, the idea of owning 1,000 acres, or even 100 acres, is out of the question unless you are a billionaire. But in America, you can do it. We found this property for a reasonable price. It was my piece of America. I fell in love with it. The idea of creating a tree farm came later. I didn’t know anything about logging and didn’t buy it for that purpose, but we hired a forester and he created a plan. Our first harvest is this year. We will harvest 1,088 trees. . . 


Rural round-up

April 10, 2019

Landowners let down by select committee on firearms changes:

Unless further changes are made to the Arms Amendment Bill, pests will be the winners and the environment will be the losers.

Federated Farmers says the Government has failed to deliver on its commitment to farmers and other major landowners that they would continue to have access to the firearms they need for effective animal pest control.

“Labour has the opportunity to fix the Bill over the next few days – otherwise Federated Farmers will feel duped by this process,” Feds Rural Security spokesperson Miles Anderson says. . .

Hard work ahead in effort to eradicate ‘M.bovis’, programme director says – Sally Rae:

The Mycoplasma bovis eradication effort is on track but there is still a lot of hard work to get done, programme director Geoff Gwyn says.

The Ministry for Primary Industries, Adorns and Beef + Lamb New Zealand recently released the 2019 Mycoplasma bovis National Plan.

The plan set out three goals: to eradicate the disease from New Zealand, to reduce the effect of the disease and the eradication programme for everyone affected, and to leave New Zealand’s biosecurity system stronger. . . 

Agri-food project gets 160 Invercargill students onto Southland farms:

Invercargill student Aimee Paterson isn’t one to shy away from a challenge – especially if it involves agriculture.

The 16-year-old has helped spearhead a food-focused educational project at Southland Girls’ High School.

Paterson’s one of a handful of TeenAg members who teamed up with teachers to teach Year 7 students about farming. . . 

Race to finish line between picking and frosts – Mark Price:

Long days picking and long nights frost-fighting.

That has been the way of it for vineyard owners and workers over the past few days.

Every frost-fighting method available was in action on Saturday night as temperatures in some parts of the Cromwell Basin, along Lake Dunstan, dropped to -3deg C or lower.

New Central Otago Winegrowers Association president Nick Paulin, of Lowburn, said yesterday conditions were “brutal”. . . 

Consultation on high country land management closing soon:

Land Information New Zealand is urging New Zealanders to have their say on the future management of the South Island high country. Public consultation on the Government’s proposed changes to the management of Crown pastoral land closes on Friday 12th April 2019.

Stretching from Marlborough to Southland, the land covers around 1.2 million hectares, nearly five percent of New Zealand.

“It’s important that people take this opportunity to tell us what they think of the proposed changes,” says Jamie Kerr, Acting Deputy Chief Executive Policy and Overseas Investment. . . 

Sustainable products assured by ag association – Agcarm – Mark Ross:

With multiple companies offering disease and pest management solutions, farmers can be guaranteed that products purchased from an Agcarm member are safe, sustainable and of high quality. Agcarm is a not-for-profit trade association, representing over 60 companies that manufacture, distribute, research and sell projects to keep animals healthy and crops thriving.

For over 70 years, Agcarm has taken a lead role in managing issues of importance to the crop protection and animal medicines industries. . .

 


Rural round-up

March 30, 2019

Farmers share tax reform fears but don’t back beneficiary bashing – Jennifer Eder:

Farmers say they are not worried about becoming the Government’s “ATMs” for beneficiary payments through tax reform, as a regional representative has claimed.

But they are anxious about proposed taxes and suspected Federated Farmers Marlborough president Phillip Neal was speaking out of frustration when he described beneficiaries as “useless”.

Neal made the comments in a newsletter earlier this month, saying a series of taxes proposed last month including a capital gains tax, emissions tax, water tax, and fertiliser tax were unfairly targeting farmers. . . 

Finding the balance between long and short term – Allan Barber:

Every business has to find an appropriate balance between long and short term planning and farming is no exception. But, given farmers are very capable of planning and implementing their annual farm strategy, the long term offers the greater challenge. Forward planning involves a high degree of risk assessment, because decisions must take into account several critical factors over which the farmer has little or no control.

Four obvious areas are government policy, climate effect, changing consumer attitudes and market access. A business can seek advice on all these from industry bodies, consultants, accountants, economists and lawyers, but in the end the buck stops with the farmer who must assess every factor which affects farm policy and performance without any certainty about the decisions being more right than wrong.  . . 

2019 Canterbury-North Otago Dairy Industry Awards winners announced:

The major winner in the 2019 Canterbury/North Otago Dairy Industry Awards aims to look after his people, pasture, cows and environment through sustainable best practices and increase profit through innovative business culture.

Ruwan Wijayasena was announced winner of the region’s Share Farmer of the Year competition at the Canterbury/North Otago Dairy Industry Awards annual awards dinner held at the Wigram Airforce Museum. The other major winners were Matt Redmond, who was named the 2019 Canterbury/North Otago Dairy Manager of the Year, and Nicola Blowey, the 2019 Canterbury/North Otago Dairy Trainee of the Year. . . 

Result of QEII National Trust 2019 Director elections:

Members of the QEII National Trust have elected Donna Field and Graham Mourie to serve as Directors on the QEII Board. Both candidates will serve a three-year term, effective immediately.

“We are pleased to welcome Donna Field back to the Board and Graham Mourie as a new director” said James Guild, Chairperson of QEII National Trust.

Donna Field has been re-elected to serve a second term on the Board. Her background includes resource management, director of Cleardale Station, a sheep and beef property in Rakaia Gorge and retiring chair of the Whitcombe Landcare group. . . 

Approval sought for new fungicide:

Public submissions have opened on an application to manufacture a fungicide in New Zealand for use in the control of a disease which affects wheat.

Dow AgroSciences (NZ) Ltd is seeking approval to manufacture GF-3308, for control of speckled leaf blotch (Septoria tritici) and also to suppress brown leaf rust (Puccinia triticina).

The applicant proposes that GF-3308 would be applied by ground-based and aerial broadcast spray methods. . . 

Good time to check plans for winter crops and grazing:

Winter grazing practices have improved over the past few years, but Hawke’s Bay Regional Council will continue to monitor livestock farms and their land use practices this winter.

Poor performers are now more in the minority says the Regional Council’s Central Catchment Manager, Brendan Powell.

“Many people aren’t aware that farmers are already well into their planning and operations ahead of winter, with winter crops in the ground and growing. The approach they take with their grazing management of crops and stock is an important part of good farming practices,” says Mr Powell. . . 


Rural round-up

August 28, 2018

The dam that divides a dry district – David Williams:

A South Island council faces a stark choice – build an expensive dam with considerable financial risks or immediately impose water restrictions that will cripple some businesses. David Williams reports.

It was during the summer of 2000-2001 that the effects of over-allocation of water from the Waimea River, at the top of the South Island, became abundantly clear.

With only a sprinkling of rain over five months, the river dried up. Unprecedented water restrictions came in for the Tasman district and neighbouring Nelson. Commercial growers on the Waimea Plains couldn’t irrigate to grow and ripen their produce. Economic losses were thought to be in the millions of dollars. . .

Water plan fan gives ORC a peek – Sally Rae:

Simon Davies has always thought a little outside the square.

With a background outside of the farming industry, the Otago Federated Farmers president acknowledged he might have a different approach from some farmers.

Last week, Otago Regional Council staff from policy, compliance, science and communications visited the Toko Mouth property Mr Davies farms with his wife Joanna.

It had been something he had been wanting to do since taking over the role earlier this year, he said — to get ORC staff on farm to see first hand the practical steps he was taking around water quality. . .

Multi-talented with attitude – Glenys Christian:

Lisa Kendall reckons she does a little bit of everything when it comes to hiring out her skills for farm work. But she’s also a competitor, scholar, researcher and consultant and is a passionate champion of animal welfare who wants to work toward farm ownership. And though she’s starting with a small sheep milk venture she already has ideas about diversification into cheese and a cafe. She told Glenys Christian about her life. 

Lisa Kendall’s two sisters say she’s crazy. 

But both of them have already expressed their strong interest in getting involved in the sheep-milking farm with attached cheese-making and cafe facilities the 26-year-old is planning in the near future. . . 

From Darfield to Dongguan – Fonterra dials up value add:

Fonterra’s new cream cheese plant in Canterbury has started production and is set to manufacture up to 24,000 metric tonnes of cream cheese annually, bound for China.

China’s changing demographics have driven a surge in popularity for Western foods. The 20kg blocks of cream cheese from Darfield will meet growing demand for bakery goods, like cheese cakes and cheese tarts.

Susan Cassidy, General Manager Marketing, Global Foodservice, Fonterra, says growth in China’s middle class, rapid urbanisation and changing consumer tastes have contributed to explosive growth in the number of consumers wanting New Zealand dairy. . . 

Dr Tom: giving hope to Aussie farmers – Dr Tom Mullholland:

They call Australia the lucky country, but I’m not sure how the global warming dice is rolling for them at the moment. All of New South Wales – that’s 100 per cent – is officially gripped in a drought, which for some regions has been going on for six years.

Apparently, they have hit 99 per cent before but this is the first time they have cracked the ton. It’s not a record you would wish on anybody. I wonder, when does a six-year drought become the local weather?

I was pleased to be invited to speak to a couple of communities in the Outback on my Healthy Thinking strategies on how to manage the top paddock between the ears. As a doctor, I also speak on how to look after your physical, mental and social health. . . 

If you want to save the world, veganism isn’t the answer – Isabelle Tree:

Veganism has rocketed in the UK over the past couple of years – from an estimated half a million people in 2016 to more than 3.5 million– 5% of our population – today. Influential documentaries such as Cowspiracy and What the Health have thrown a spotlight on the intensive meat and dairy industry, exposing the impacts on animal and human health and the wider environment.

But calls for us all to switch entirely to plant-based foods ignore one of the most powerful tools we have to mitigate these ills: grazing and browsing animals.

Rather than being seduced by exhortations to eat more products made from industrially grown soya, maize and grains, we should be encouraging sustainable forms of meat and dairy production based on traditional rotational systems, permanent pasture and conservation grazing. . .


Rebuilding trust

May 29, 2018

The government’s decisions to attempt to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis is an expensive one, but not eradicating it would be even more costly:

The Government says it has reached an agreement with farming sector leaders to attempt to eradicate the disease from New Zealand.

The cull, of around 126,000 in addition to the 26,000 already underway, will take place over one to two years.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said to not act would cost even more than what would be spent on trying to eradicate it – $886 million.

$1.3b over 10 years was the estimated cost of not acting.

“Today’s decision to eradicate is driven by the Government’s desire to protect the national herd from the disease and to protect the base of economy – the farming sector,” Ardern said.

“This is a tough call – no one ever wants to see mass culls. But the alternative is the spread of the disease across our national herd,” she said.

“I personally do not want to look back on this time … and say I wish we had tried harder.

“We have this one shot to eradicate, and we are taking it together.

“We want New Zealand to be free of it,” Ardern said.

The Government will meet 68% of the cost and Dairy NZ and Beef and Lamb New Zealand will meet 32%. . . 

Farmers have mixed views on the wisdom of this decision but it’s backed by DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb, Federated Farmers and the National Party.

Culling all the cattle will be devastating for farmers and sharemilkers but at least the government has committed to much faster action on compensation claims:

Minister of Agriculture and Biosecurity Damien O’Connor said:

. . “I’ve also asked MPI to revisit the compensation process and they’ve developed a new streamlined approach for those whose animals are culled to enable a substantial payment within a matter of days.

“Farmer welfare is crucial and I’d like to thank the Rural Support Trusts for the work they’re doing. With this decision we know more help is needed and the Government and industry groups are committed to helping farmers through this stressful time. . . 

No-one thinks eradicating the disease will be easy and as David Williams writes, another  difficult task will be rebuilding trust in MPI:

. . When the dust settles, and the debate about eradication – or not – is over, MPI needs to start listening. Listening to farmers, to vets, to business people. Because I think MPI’s biggest job is not getting rid of M. bovis, it’s regaining trust. . . 

(MPI admits compensation payments have been too slow. Biosecurity response director Geoff Gwyn told Newshub: “I lose sleep over the fact there are people out there suffering as a result of the actions we’re putting on, and I know it’s cold comfort for them, but they are taking a hit for the national herd.”)

It doesn’t stop there, however. Criticism of MPI is also happening in the supermarket aisles, over the bar in rural pubs and over farm fences. Most importantly, it’s happening at the dining table, shaping the attitudes of the next generation of farmers. Many are probably saying the same things as the infected farmers – but some are undoubtedly going further.

In South Canterbury, there’s talk that there have been signs of disease in some herds for years. Given what’s happened, some are asking why authorities were told at all.

Trouble ahead

That’s the biggest problem. A few people tell me the way MPI has handled this outbreak means, they think, some farmers won’t be inclined to report problems in the future. They don’t think MPI has their back. This is not to defend such behaviour, but to give the authorities a heads-up. If that attitude spreads like M. bovis has, there’s trouble ahead.

As with TB, farmers must be confident that if they report a problem it will be taken seriously, they will be treated fairly and compensated quickly.

Without that confidence, some farmers will be tempted to quietly shoot and bury infected stock.

Of course, in Roger Smith’s perfect world, everyone would do the right thing. But human nature – as proved by the failure of the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) system – tells us that doesn’t always happen.

MPI can’t possibly put field officers in every farm, so it has to rely on farmers to report problems. But this mood of mistrust, born of M. bovis, creates a climate of fear and self-reliance rather than faith in the system. The country needs faith, however, and it’s up to MPI to restore it.

What we’ve seen in recent months, however, is farmers turning on farmers, as the secrecy over which farms are infected leads to suspicion and accusation, not just about who knew what but when they knew it. The slowness or non-existence of compensation payments is an added stress. Businesses are failing, people are struggling and MPI is coming across as detached and cold-hearted.

At a national level, Federated Farmers says its members have to lift their game, particularly when it comes to animal identification and tracing. (Northland’s branch is calling for a full, independent inquiry about MPI’s approach to biosecurity.) Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor has instructed officials to take a tougher approach to compliance with the tracing system, NAIT. These conversations should have been had years ago.

Problems with NAIT – both the system itself and compliance – must be addressed and addressed quickly.

The tougher conversations are to be had face-to-face with farmers. Yes, there needs to be a better job of selling the benefits of NAIT – that’ll help uptake. But the crucial conversations will be farmers telling MPI what they need, how best to help them and how, when the next outbreak hits – because it will – the ministry can improve its response.

Of course, just because the farmers are talking, doesn’t mean that MPI will listen.

MPI has lost the confidence of farmers.

They didn’t appear to realise the human and financial cost to farmers whose businesses have been threatened and the importance of clear communication and speedy settling of compensation.

Eradicating M. bovis must be its primary focus but it must take seriously the criticisms aimed at it and ensure that its systems and staff training improve so it and they regain farmers’ trust and are ready and able to respond faster and better to the next biosecurity incursion.

MPI’s media release gives some hope that it has already learned from its mistakes.

We understand this will be painful for farmers who are affected, and we are committed to looking after those who have Mycoplasma bovis on their farms.

If you are a farmer and need support, help is available through your industry group representative, individual response case manager, or the Rural Support Trust.

• Rural Support Trust: 0800 78 72 54

• MPI: 0800 00 83 33

Industry representatives:

• Dairy NZ: 0800 43 24 79 69

• Beef + Lamb NZ: 0800 23 33 52

• Federated Farmers: 0800 32 76 46

We’re calling on rural communities to support each other, especially affected farmers and those that appear to be finding it hard. If you have any concerns about someone you know, contact the Rural Support Trust or other community support services.

Download the Looking after yourself fact sheet [PDF, 813 KB]

Compensation

Compensation is available for anyone who has verifiable losses as a result of directions they are given by MPI under the Biosecurity Act to manage Mycoplasma bovis.

Farmers that are directed to have animals culled or their farm operations restricted under movement controls will be eligible for compensation. In particular, farmers whose animals are being culled will receive an initial payment for the value of culled stock within 2 weeks of a completed claim being lodged.

Learn more about Biosecurity Act compensation

Mycoplasma bovis compensation claim form user guide [PDF, 446 KB]

MPI must now ensure its actions match its words, and to date, this from Keith Woodford, shows they haven’t:

There are going to be huge challenges for MPI. To date, they have not covered themselves in glory. All members of their response team will have been working hard within imposed limits, but the MPI system has let them down with too many layers of management and an inability to make timely operational decisions for each farm.

The most urgent issue right now relates to all of the NOD (suspect) farms in the South Island that have their cows and their feed in different locations. As just one example of many, there is a Mid Canterbury farmer I know of who is caught in the constipated bureaucracy and as of today still cannot get approval to shift his stock less than two kilometres to another farm he owns (and which he agrees will then also become a NOD farm).

These cows need to be moved and should have been progressively moved over recent weeks as they were dried-off, if they are to have feed to eat. This farm is not one of the infected properties, rather it is just one of the 300 NOD suspect properties.

We don’t know how many farms are in this situation of cows isolated from their winter feed, but almost certainly well over 100. This is not the ‘gypsy day’ situation but something quite different. And it is a big animal and human welfare issue.

There should be no hold-up over permission to move stock from one block to another owned by the same farmer who agrees to it becoming a NOD farm.

The Government appears to be underestimating the complexity of the compensation claims. The challenge is that claims have to be ‘verified’, but loss of income claims are always debatable. Claim settlements require agreements on what would have happened and by definition that is impossible to verify objectively.

An MPI source advises that any claim over $75,000 requires five separate signatures across various ministries from within the Wellington bureaucracy after the technical assessors have reached agreement. Given the future tsunami of claims, from both infected and suspect properties, and the reality that almost no claims have yet to be settled except in partial amounts, there will be a need for a separate and preferably independent Claims Assessment Commission. . . 

 

This map shows the extent of the known spread of the disease. It looks bad and it is.

But so far all cases can be traced back to a single source, all infections are the same strain and nothing has been traced back further than 2015. It is a lot of farms and a lot of cows and devastating personally and financially for those affected.

Eradication will require a huge effort by the farmers affected and MPI and big changes within the dairy industry and those who support and service it.

 


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