Rural round-up

December 20, 2017

Six suspected suicides of farmers ‘tragic’ – Alexa Cook:

A group representing young farmers says a spate of suicides over the past few weeks is tragic – but not surprising – after a really stressful year for the sector.

New Zealand Young Farmers chief executive Terry Copeland said it’s been a really tough time for the farming community and there have been six suspected suicides in recent weeks.

“My understanding is that there were four young men in Canterbury last week that had taken their own lives.

“But also I’ve heard two in the Waikato as well, and one of them in the Waikato was one of our young farmer members … it’s tragic,” he said. . . 

Federated Farmers president’s message to workers after sudden deaths in rural communities

Farming groups are pleading with stressed workers to speak up if they need support in the wake of a series of deaths of young men across the country.

The Herald on Sunday understands four farmers died suddenly in the past few weeks, including a Hamilton City Young Farmer member, and a popular rodeo competitor in Canterbury. Both were aged in their 20s.

The coroner’s office has confirmed one of the deaths is before coroner Michael Robb.

Federated Farmers president Katie Milne broke down in tears while speaking to the Herald on Sunday, saying she was becoming increasingly desperate to remind farmers that help was available if they needed it. . . 

The faces of disease-fearing farmers: Mycoplasma bovis meeting spills out of Southland hall – Dave Nicoll:

Farmers spilled out of a Winton hall as hundreds of them gathered at a meeting, concerned about the discovery of Mycoplasma bovis in Southland.

The Memorial Hall was packed to capacity with people standing, and even spilling outside as they waited to hear what the Ministry for Primary Industries had to say about the containment of the disease.

Ministry director of response Geoff Gwyn said the response team was working to identify where in Southland infected cattle had been moving, in an effort to contain the disease. . . 

Japan’s Itoham Yonekyu buys 100% of Anzco Foods as part of Asia growth strategy – Sophie Boot:

 (BusinessDesk) – Japanese-listed Itoham Yonekyu Holdings has received Overseas Investment Office approval to increase its shareholding of Anzco Foods to 100 percent, from the 65 percent it already owned.

Anzco was New Zealand’s second-largest meat company and fifth-largest exporter in 2016, with turnover of $1.5 billion and 3,000 employees. It was already 83.3 percent overseas owned, with 16.8 percent of the company held by Japanese marine products company Nippon Suisan Kaisha, known as Nissui, and the remaining 18.2 percent owned by the company’s chair Graeme Harrison and management. Harrison will step down at the company’s next annual meeting in March, having signalled his plans for retirement in 2015. . . 

What do we do? Agriculture in the age of synthetic food – William Ray:

Meatless meats and milkless milks seem to be just over the horizon and with many companies aiming to undercut the price of the ‘real’ stuff there’s the potential for a real threat to the New Zealand economy.

In this special episode of Our Changing World, William Ray investigates.

“We’ve got chicken or beef!” yells comedian Ben Hurley from an ad in my Facebook feed (cue sound effects for clucking chickens and mooing cattle).

“Wow, that’s absolutely delicious!” gushes a smiling stranger, which is the only polite response when someone hands you a free taco and pushes a microphone into your face.

Now the big reveal: “Do you know what… that’s 100 percent plant based!” (cue record scratch sound effect). . . 

Social licence and NZ aquaculture:

Research from the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge has found that personal relationships go a long way towards aquaculture companies gaining/maintaining community acceptance and social licence to operate.

Interviews with aquaculture, fishing and enviro community groups have revealed that social licence to operate (SLO) is easily lost – or absent – if a company’s relationship is purely transactional; ie if links with the local community are solely business-related.

“Relational relationships, where one or more employees have personal as well as professional relationships with community, go a very long way to gaining and maintaining SLO,” said Peter Edwards, a co-author of the paper and a Political Scientist at Scion. “In other words, these employees are part of community life.” . . 

Director election for Beef + Lamb New Zealand Northern North Island electoral district:

A Director election will be held for Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Northern North Island electoral district after three nominations were received.

Martin Coup of Aria, Murray Jagger of Whangarei and Ross Wallis of Raglan will stand as candidates to replace current Northern North Island director and chairman James Parsons, who announced last month he was not seeking re-election. . . 

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Where else is M Bovis?

December 14, 2017

Mycoplasma bovis has been found in the North Island and Southland.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has identified 4 new properties as positive for the bacterial cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis and strongly suspects one further property.

One of the latest infected properties is in the Hastings district, the other 3 are within a farming enterprise in Winton. The suspect property is near Ashburton.

MPI’s Director of Response, Geoff Gwyn says early indications are that all the properties have links with the Van Leeuwen Dairy Group (VLDG) through cattle movements.

“The Hastings and Ashburton properties were identified through our tracing programme and the Winton property was identified through the industry milk testing programme.

“All of the movements we have been tracing are prior to 21 July, when the disease was first detected and notified to MPI.

The stock on these properties all has links back to the property where the disease was first identified.

The problem is no-one knows where it came from and how it got there.

It is possible, maybe probable, it is on other farms but hasn’t been identified which raises the question of where else it might be.

It carries no risk to people but it is serious in cattle and spreads from animal to animal.

“The Hastings and Winton properties are now under a Restricted Place Notice under the Biosecurity Act. This effectively places them in quarantine lockdown – restricting the movement of animals and other risk goods on and off the farm. The suspect property is under voluntary movement controls until their status is confirmed. MPI is working closely with them.

Mr Gwyn says these new developments are not good news.
“We’re still analysing what this means for the wider response. We’re dealing with a lot of uncertainty. Our investigators are building a picture of stock movements onto and off these farms so we will not be making hasty decisions on next steps.

“While it’s really disappointing to have these new properties, it is not totally unexpected. We know that this disease is spread through contact between animals and through the movement of stock – as is the case here.

“It was always possible further infected properties would be found, buying, selling and moving stock is a common practice in farming. A key part of our response has been identifying and investigating animals that have moved to or from affected properties before Mycoplasma bovis was first detected. This tracing is complex detective work which takes time.

“I know an obvious question people will have is ‘Why has it taken this long to find these properties?’. The answer to that lies with the nature of this particular bacteria.

“It is a tricky thing to find and often hides within an animal, lying dormant and not revealing itself for weeks or months. Some cattle may be infected and never show signs of the disease. This is why we test multiple times using multiple kinds of tests. Sometimes to confirm the disease we have to test organ tissue from animals at slaughter as was the case in Hastings.

This is a very slow process which is frustrating and concerning  for everyone involved but the diffiuclty in identifying infected animals isn’t peculiar to Mycoplasma bovis.

Some cows in our herd tested positive for TB several years ago. The infected cows were killed, the herd was tested again and any cow that reacted was killed – most didn’t have the disease.

The herd eventually tested all clear but a couple of years later we got another positive test. We went through the same process and eventually the herd was cleared.

Some time after that a cow from our original herd dried herself off and was culled. When she was killed she was found to be riddled with TB. The vets said that was the carrier they’d been looking for and, if I understand what they said correctly, her system hadn’t reacted to the multiple tests she’d undergone because it was busy fighting the disease.

Mr Gwyn said MPI is continuing with its policy of not naming the affected properties if the owners did not want this.

MPI is prevented from doing otherwise by the Privacy Act. However, we do understand community concern about the disease and we are strongly encouraging farmers under controls or investigation to talk to their neighbours, customers and suppliers.”

That would be my advice.

Neighbours and anyone coming on to the farms will know which properties are under controls and the grapevine will be spreading the news.

It’s far better to be up front and give the facts than to let rumours spread based on only part of the story and misinformation.

Mr Gwyn said the depopulation programme is almost complete on the infected Van Leeuwen properties and is on track to be completed before Christmas. To date over 3,500 animals have been culled.

“Our extensive testing and tracing work also continues. So far the MPI lab has completed over 55,000 tests and our investigators have followed up 250 properties around the country.

“We encourage all farmers and rural contractors to help protect their farms and businesses by following standard on-farm hygiene best practice and to ensure their NAIT and all farm records are kept up to date.” Full information on hygiene measures and other resources are available on the MPI website.

“This is a really tough time for all the affected farmers who find themselves in this situation through no fault of their own. MPI, Rural Support Trusts and industry are supporting them but they will also need support from their neighbours and communities, especially at what is already a stressful time of year.”

MPI will be holding a public meeting in the Hastings area on the evening of Wednesday, 20 December. Time and venue are to be confirmed. Keep an eye of the MPI Facebook page for event details.

Federated Farmers echoes the advice on hygiene measures:

Good on-farm biosecurity and accurate tracing of animal movement is not an option in today’s world, it’s an imperative, Federated Farmers President Katie Milne said.

Positive tests for Mycoplasma bovis in herds in Hastings and Winton (Southland) and a suspected case in Ashburton further underline the need for farmers to treat biosecurity measures on their own properties as a top priority.

Federated Farmers and other industry leaders remain committed to eradicating Mycoplasma bovis, even though today’s announcement makes that a bigger but by no means impossible challenge, Katie said.

“Don’t rely on others to protect your patch, protect it yourself. In the end, we are all biosecurity officers with a role to play.”

Establishing a 1.5m buffer along fence lines with neighbouring properties should be standard practice. Where practical that could be a vegetation buffer, which would deliver biosecurity and biodiversity benefits. Close and repeated contact with an infected animal is still regarded as the most likely way Mycoplasma bovis is spread. As one farmer said at a recent meeting, “losing some grazing is a small cost compared to losing your herd”.

If vets and AI technicians are visiting your property make sure they have thoroughly cleaned their equipment before they arrive and do so before they leave, and provide hot water and disinfectant for their hands and equipment. Consider making a footbath and a scrubbing brush handy for the boots of all visitors coming onto, and leaving, your farm.

“Think about your own actions too. If you’re visiting a neighbour, clean your boots and any gear you might bring,” Katie said.

“Making sure your NAIT records are right up to date, giving special attention to recording stock movements. 100% compliance with traceability requirements [NAIT and Animal Status Declaration (ASD)] is not only vital for biosecurity but increasingly important as we sell our high quality product to discerning customers.”

Where practical, limit cattle movements onto your farm. Mycoplasma bovis can be present in apparently healthy animals and there is currently no sufficiently reliable, pre-movement test that can be applied to detect latent or hidden infection. Farmers with leased/loaned terminal bulls may need to think about sending them straight to slaughter. This may well mean a change in practice, but it’s well worth thinking about and discussing with the bulls’ owner.

Federated Farmers does not know who the newly-affected farmers are as their privacy is important, Katie said. “We certainly extend our best wishes to them in what will be a stressful time, and we will continue to work closely with MPI and other sector groups on this sensitive and vital issue.

“Federated Farmers has been helping affected farmers where we can and as we are asked. I encourage any of the new farmers to contact us or their local Rural Support Trust if they have any questions or want assistance.”

Other biosecurity measures farmers can take are listed on the MPI’s web page.

MPI knows where the disease was first identified but nobody knows where it came from.

Any farm with cattle could be harbouring the disease without knowing it.


Rural round-up

November 11, 2017

Young sheep and beef farmers lift their performance with small tweaks – Brittany Pickett:

For Matt and Joe McRae, getting their ewes to perform at a consistently high level is their number one goal.

The young Southland brothers – who farm their 575 hectare effective rolling hill country farm Eilean Donan in partnership – are aiming to have their ewes lambing more than 150 per cent every year and, more importantly, grow the lambs to maximise every kilogram produced per hectare.

“The lambing percentage is only one part of it, it’s the product out the gate that pays the bills,” Matt says. . . 

Let’s get the facts, not fiction, on M.bovis – Geoff Gwyn:

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) wishes to set the record straight regarding the article titled ‘Imported semen fingered for M.bovis outbreak’ in Rural News October 24.

Read the article here

In the article, Chris Morley, DairyNZ biosecurity manager stated that, in his opinion, he would bet on semen as the most likely source of the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak. Of course, Mr Morley is entitled to his opinion, but the fact of that matter is that MPI does not know how or when Mycoplasma bovis entered NZ, although significant efforts are being made to find out.

A full investigation is looking at six possible means of entry: live animals, imported semen, embryos, contaminated equipment, biological material (such as vaccines) and feed. While this is underway, we are not going to speculate on the origin of the disease in NZ. . .

Saltwater intrusion – Waimea Water:

What is saltwater intrusion

In the 2001 drought, saltwater intrusion occurred in the lower reaches of the Waimea River and was threatening to migrate further inland. In March Tasman District Council opened talks to consider options to protect the dry riverbed. Because the river had no flows, no river water was flushing the saltwater out and it was instead accumulating on the estuary. The Council discussed building a bund across the river and drilling monitoring bores to better monitor how the saltwater contamination was migrating inland, including to the urban supply bores. Ultimately, three urban supply wells were shut down over this period and two were decommissioned at the end of the drought.

Saltwater intrusion is a threat to coastal communities. Once saltwater has entered an underground freshwater system (aquifer) and contaminates it, it can cost much more to treat it for consumption or simply render the supply unusable. For people along the Waimea Plains who rely on bores for their water supply, saltwater intrusion is a real issue. . . 

Why blaming farmers doesn’t hold water – Vaughan Jones:

Water is being discussed across the country, but without solutions. Farmers are blamed, never townies, but look at this photo of polluted water entering the Waikato River just upstream of Fairfield Bridge, in September 2016. If a farmer did the same, they would be fined up to $50,000 and closed down until fixed. I’ve been told by a person that what looked like toilet paper was in some of it.

Environment Waikato told me in 1995 that Hamilton needed four sediment ponds. There are still none while thousands have been built on farms at high cost. This is another example showing that rules for farmers are stricter than for townies.

Waikato Regional Council has forced some farmers to build sediment ponds, but they are negatives because of high costs, and because fresh effluent is of more value and causes less polluting when spread fresh, not months later during which time much has been lost into the air, polluting it, and reduced its fertilising value. . . 

Bay of Islands P&I Show runs in the family:

Sam and Christine Ludbrook will be at the Bay of Islands Pastoral and Industrial Show at Waimate North this weekend, as they have been every year for decades. And they won’t be the only Ludbrooks there by any means.

The show was first staged, as an agricultural demonstration, at the Waimate North mission in 1842. It’s still going strong 175 years later, making it the oldest show of its kind in the country.

And Ludbrooks have been there from the start.

Sam’s grandfather was there in the early days, exhibiting stock, and his brother was on the committee. And while no one can be absolutely sure, it is almost certain that his great-grandfather, Samuel Blomfield Ludbrook, was there in 1842. . . 

Which NZ university has the best employment rates?

As we get older what we talk about with friends changes. This is because of the challenges faced and experiences shared. So when Megan Hands’ friends from her hometown started talking about the choices they had to make when they finished studying, she found she couldn’t join in.

After finishing school, Hands left home in the Manawatu and moved south because she wanted to study both environmental management and agriculture, and Lincoln University offered exactly what she was looking for. Fast forward to graduation and she found some of her contemporaries were having conversations completely outside what she had experienced.

Hands is now running her own farming sustainability company as an environmental consultant.

The experience of Hands and others in her year group are typical for Lincoln University graduates. In Ministry of Education statistics released recently, Lincoln University Bachelor’s Degree graduate employment rates are consistently the highest among New Zealand universities. A survey of graduates from the Lincoln class of 2016 found that 93 percent of those employed were in career-related positions. . . 

#My60acres: soybean harvest – Uptown farms:

#My60Acres is harvested again!  This was the second year Matt let me play a leading role in the management of a sixty acre field on our home farm, and my first soybean crop. 
 
I didn’t get to start the morning with him because my work schedule has been a little hectic, so I didn’t join until late afternoon.  But as soon as I got there, he slid over and let me take the wheel.
 
It might sound odd that he couldn’t wait a day or two for my schedule to be better, but soybean harvest is very time sensitive.  We have to wait long enough the plants are dry, but not too long. . . 


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.


Rural round-up

November 1, 2017

Farmers’ efforts rewarded with improving water quality – Esther Taunton:

Taranaki has recorded its best stream health trends in 21 years, a new report shows.

The 2017 Healthy Waterways report showed water quality in the region was ‘fit for purpose’ by almost all measures within the compulsory national criteria at almost all sites most of the time.

Published by the Taranaki Regional Council, the report looked at trends from 20 years of monitoring and showed most measures were improving or not changing significantly for the ecological health and physical and chemical state of 99 per cent of Taranaki rivers and streams. . . 

No Sign of Bonamia in wild oysters:

The latest testing of the Bluff wild oyster fishery shows no sign of Bonamia ostreae, says the Ministry for Primary Industries.

The testing was part of MPI’s surveillance programme for the invasive parasite, says MPI Director of Readiness and Response Geoff Gwyn.

“This is great news for the local industry and everyone involved in the response,” says Mr Gwyn. . . 

Global meat trends look positive – Allan Barber:

2016 saw widely differing agricultural export performances between New Zealand and our trans-Tasman neighbours. According to the Red Meat Advisory Council’s State of the Industry 2017 report, Australia broke all records by increasing its exports of red meat to A$15.1 billion, up by nearly A$6 billion since 2009. It was the world’s biggest exporter of beef, second biggest for sheep meat and third biggest live exporter.

In contrast New Zealand’s exports of red meat and offal declined by $909 million to $5.9 billion or 7.4% from 2015; the fall was shared fairly evenly between beef (down $481 million) and sheep meat (down $415 million), although the percentage drop for beef was much higher at 14.4% compared with 4.6% for sheep meat. Both volume and value contributed to the decline, with the United States responsible for three quarters of the beef shortfall and the EU, including UK, responsible for half that of sheep meat. . . 

Building a NZ brand:

Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s market development team is building a compelling case for the red meat industry to work with a New Zealand brand story under which individual brands could sit.

Michael Wan, who led a marketing team on a research trip to China, United States, Germany, India, Indonesia, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates and New Zealand, says this country needs a strong value proposition at a national level and to invest in telling its story.

The trip, which included comprehensive qualitative research at every level of the supply chain in each of the markets they visited, highlighted both a low awareness of NZ – especially its food production systems – but also the potential for growth in the lamb category. . .

Farmer Fast Five – Charles Douglas-Clifford – Claire Inkson:

The Farmers Fast Five: Where we ask a Farmer five quick questions about Farming, and what Agriculture means to them. Today we talk to Ballance Farm Environment Award Winner and Proud North Canterbury Farmer Charles Douglas-Clifford.

1.         How long have you been farming?

I have been involved in farming in one way or another all my life. I grew up on the family farm as a 6th generation descendant, finished
school and worked on various farms in Australia for a year. I then went to Lincoln University to study a BCom Ag. I went on to spend 6 years working as a rural bank manager for the National Bank in Palmerston North, Nelson and Timaru. Then in early 2012 I returned home to Stonyhurst with Erin, after getting married and have been here ever since.           

2.         What sort of farming were/are you involved in?                    

In the 6 years working as a rural manager I got to see a wide range of farming operations throughout the country. I was also
fortunate to have been in the finance sector through the global financial crisis. . . 

2017 Fonterra Elections Results Announced:

Returning Officer Warwick Lampp, of electionz.com Ltd, has declared the final results of the 2017 elections for the Fonterra Board of Directors, Directors’ Remuneration Committee and Shareholders’ Council.

Shareholders voted to elect incumbent Director John Monaghan and new Directors Brent Goldsack and Andy Macfarlane. . . 

Velvet market underpinned by growing demand:

The new deer velvet season has opened strongly, with farmers reporting early enquiry from buyers at prices 10-15 per cent above last season’s close.

Deer Industry NZ (DINZ) Asia market manager Rhys Griffiths says the price recovery is timely, given the investment many farmers are making in upgrades to their velvetting facilities.

“Regulatory changes in China last season led to a loss of buyer confidence and a dip in prices that did not reflect the steady growth in demand for NZ velvet from China and Korea, our major markets,” he says. . . 

Biosecurity Week 2017 kicks off:

Pests and diseases from offshore can cause serious harm to New Zealand’s unique environment and primary industries; and the Port of Tauranga is one of many potential gateways.

Biosecurity Week activities highlight the importance of biosecurity and the role that everyone in the Bay of Plenty can play in managing unwanted biosecurity risks says Kiwifruit Vine Health Chief Executive Barry O’Neil.

“We’re looking forward to talking to people who work on and around the Port about biosecurity – it’s such an important issue and one that really does affect everyone.” . . 

NZX plans to launch skim milk powder option contract – Tina Morrison:

(BusinessDesk) – NZX, the financial markets operator, plans to launch a global skim milk powder option contract in December in response to customer demand.

The Wellington-based company said trading volumes in its skim milk powder futures market are up 113 percent this year as interest in its suite of dairy risk management tools increases. The new contract will add to the NZX’s existing futures contracts for whole milk powder, skim milk powder, anhydrous milk fat and butter, and its whole milk powder options. . . 

Innovative trading platform Syndex announces partnership with agritech firm:

Online share exchange Syndex is supporting New Zealand agritech company Regen to undertake a major expansion.

Syndex is an independent online trading platform for any proportionally owned asset for the private economy. Fractions of agricultural assets, units in commercial property and private equity can all be funded and purchased through the Syndex exchange. . . 


Rural round-up

October 23, 2017

Red meat halves risk of depression:

Women who reduce lamb and beef in their diets are more likely to suffer depression, according to the new study.

Experts admitted surprise at the findings because so many other studies have linked red meat to physical health risks.

The team made the link after a study of 1000 Australian women.
Professor Felice Jacka, who led the research by Deakin University, Victoria, said: “We had originally thought that red meat might not be good for mental health but it turns out that it actually may be quite important. . . 

Tech means go slow to speed up – Richard Rennie:

A warts and all insight to precision agriculture’s impact on those at the sharp end includes frustrations over data quantities it generate but also the rewards of sticking with it and saving significant sums along the way.

At this year’s precision agriculture conference in Hamilton delegates had the chance to learn about hands-on farmer experiences with the many different versions of the technology and pick up some lessons on how to get the most from it. . .

Farmers should benefit from calls for greater transparency around food production – Gerald Piddock:

Consumer demands for more transparency in food production are expected to bring greater rewards for New Zealand farmers demonstrating good environmental stewardship.

The push for more transparency came from a growing interest in how food was produced, Ministry for Primary Industries’ director general Martyn Dunne told delegates at the International Tri-Conference for Precision Agriculture in Hamilton on October 16. . .

Concern for farmers involved in outbreak – Sally Rae:

South Canterbury Rural Support Trust trustee Sarah Barr says she is very concerned for the farmers involved with the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak, describing it as an “excruciating experience” for them.

Mrs Barr, who has been working closely with the farmers, urged the community to support them.

“Keep in mind how terrible it is for these guys losing their animals,” she told about 50 people attending a public meeting in Waimate this week.

Ministry for Primary Industries technical liaison officer Victoria Barrell said Mycoplasma bovis was a “terrible disease“. . .

NAIT disease response fell short – Annette Scott:

National Animal Identification and Tracing fell short of expectation in the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis response, Ministry for Primary Industries readiness and response director Geoff Gwyn says.

He told a farmer meeting in Waimate on Thursday that NAIT animal declaration had played a key part in the response.

“But we have learnt a lot. It has fallen short of expectation, been disappointing,” Gwyn said.

“If this had been a fast moving disease we could well be in a different situation. . . 

Orchard buyers set new kiwifruit gold standard as Zespri expands plantings – Gerard Hutching:

Prices for kiwifruit orchards have hit new highs, with a handful of sales this week in Bay of Plenty over the $1 million per hectare mark.

Stan Robb of PGG Wrightson Real Estate in Te Puke said properties were in such demand they were snapped up in days.

In June the region was abuzz with news of the first orchards to break through the $1m per ha ceiling. Those orchards had a full crop on them, so the new owners could make an immediate income, unlike the recent ones. . .


4,000 cattle to be culled

October 13, 2017

The Ministry of Primary Industries has ordered around 4,000 cows from seven farms to be culled to prevent the spread of Mycoplasma bovis:

The Ministry for Primary Industries is moving forward with control measures to prevent further spread of the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis, with plans being developed with farmers to cull animals from the known infected farms.

“Since the start of this response in late July, we’ve carried out tens of thousands of tests of the infected, neighbouring and trace properties as well as district-wide testing in Waimate and Waitaki, and nationwide testing of bulk milk,” says MPI’s Director of Response, Geoff Gwyn.

“The only positive results for the disease have been on 7 infected properties, leading us to be cautiously optimistic that we are dealing with a localised area of infection around Oamaru,” Mr Gwyn says.

“To prevent further spread of the disease, around 4,000 cattle on 5 of the 7 infected properties will need to be culled and a programme put in place to decontaminate the properties and then re-populate the farms. The 2 other properties have had a small number of animals culled already and no cattle remain.

“This whole operation is about managing the disease while keeping our future options open. We want to minimise the risk of further spread of the disease.  Moving ahead with depopulation of the affected farms will allow them to get back to normal business as soon as it is safe to do so.”

Currently there is no need to remove animals from other farms in the Van Leeuwen group that are under restrictions. Testing of animals on those farms continues and should infection be found, they will be subject to the same measures.

In the coming weeks MPI will be working closely with the animal industry bodies, the Rural Support Trust and others to support the affected farmers.

DairyNZ, Federated Farmers and Beef+Lamb New Zealand support the actions MPI is taking, while at the same time recognising that this is a difficult time for the farmers involved. The industry bodies believe the measures are necessary to protect New Zealand cattle farms against this disease. New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world where Mycoplasma bovis is not endemic, which is why the industry groups support such significant measures to keep it that way.

“The coming weeks will present new challenges and will be tough for these affected farmers. MPI will work with those affected to make the process as straight forward as possible. I’d like to particularly thank the owners, sharemilkers and farm workers involved for their ongoing support, recognising this is a very difficult time for them,” Mr Gwyn says.

“I want to be very clear that this isn’t something that’s going to start tomorrow. This is a big logistical exercise, it needs to be thoroughly planned and co-ordinated and we will be doing it with the farmers who know their businesses best,” Mr Gwyn says.

MPI anticipates the first stage of the process – removing the animals – will start after consultation with affected parties. Most of the cattle will be sent for slaughter in accordance with standard practice.

All premises, transportation vehicles and equipment involved in culling will follow a strict decontamination and disinfection protocol to mitigate the risk of spreading the disease.

Once depopulation is completed, there will be at least a 60 day stand-down period where no cattle will be permitted on the farms. During this time the infected properties will be cleaned and disinfected.

Following this work, the aim will be to get cattle back on the farms as quickly as possible. Surveillance, monitoring and testing will remain in place for a period as a further safeguard.

The affected farmers can apply for compensation for verifiable losses relating to MPI exercising legal powers under the Biosecurity Act.

The disease carries no risk to human health but there is no cure for it. Culling is a drastic step but it has the support of affected farmers and industry groups including DairyNZ:

Dairy farmers around the country will be reassured by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) decision to cull animals on farms infected with the disease Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis), says DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle.

“Since M. bovis was first identified in July farmers have been on high alert and worried about the impact of this disease,” says Dr Mackle.

“DairyNZ is supportive of MPI’s decision to step up control measures by culling these animals. However, we also know that the decision will create heartache for the affected farmers, and our sympathies are with all those involved on-farm.”

Dr Mackle says the decision follows extensive work and testing by MPI, with significant support from DairyNZ and many other agencies. Since the disease was first identified in July over 30,000 tests have been carried out by MPI.

MPI is increasingly confident that infection has not spread outside the primary farming enterprise involved with this outbreak, or any of the other farms also under restricted place notices.

Over the coming weeks there will be continued monitoring and testing in the interests of shutting down this disease in New Zealand.

He says biosecurity is fundamental to the future success of all New Zealand’s primary sectors, dairy included. . . 

This is echoed by Beef + Lamb NZ:

. . . James Parsons, chairman of B+LNZ, said: “The decision will obviously have significant implications for the farm businesses and the rural communities affected by this disease outbreak and we wish to see all available support and compensation provided to those affected. We believe these measures are necessary to protect New Zealand cattle farms against this disease.

“New Zealand takes its biosecurity very seriously and is one of the few countries in the world where this disease isn’t endemic, so that’s why the industry is willing to support such significant measures to keep it that way.” 

Federated Farmers also supports the move:

The decision to destroy stock which have been in contact with affected animals is the only option which will ensure peace of mind for the rest of New Zealand’s dairy and beef farmers, Federated Farmers President Katie Milne says.

“We also support the continuation of strict movement controls on the remaining 13 properties that have been placed under Restricted Place Notices.

“These restrictions have significant implications for the people concerned, and all other farmers, so this action is essential to keep the option of eradication on the table.”

M. bovis infected stock can be severely affected by the disease, causing pain and suffering.

“We recognise the disease has come at a significant emotional cost to the affected farming families and their animals. The process of culling whole herds will be very stressful for the people concerned.

“But the disease does not respond to treatment and cannot be vaccinated against. Culling is the only logical option to prevent ongoing suffering of the animals.”

From a national perspective, our size, relatively low population and geographic isolation gives us the ability to manage and attempt to eradicate biosecurity incursions, when other countries cannot.

“M. bovis is found in most countries, including Australia, this is a disease that we definitely don’t want and we should seek to eradicate it, if feasible.

“We’ve remained free of many pest animals and pest plants (weeds) and diseases that have decimated other country’s livestock industries. For the sake of our livestock industries and the economy, it’s crucial we act now to ensure this remains the case,” Katie says.

Culling the cattle is necessary but that won’t make it any easier.

When some of our cows tested positive for TB a few years ago we had to cull a few dozen from the herd.

That was hard enough but a very small loss compared with the thousands to be culled on these farms.

MPI will pay compensation based on the commercial value of the stock but that won’t cover the loss of income or the costs of rebuilding the herd. Nor will it replace generations of breeding that went in to building up the herd.


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