Rural round-up

April 18, 2018

Government should use tertiary funding to push Kiwis into primary industries– Sarah Perriam:

Imagine two high school students.

One drops out to work in a factory.

The other finishes school, and now travels the world with chefs and photographers.

They’re both 25 years old, and earning $100,000.

How did they do it? They chose to work in the ‘food’ industry, which has for too long been called a ‘primary’ industry. . . 

Interim climate change committee immediately asked how to deal with agricultural emissions – Henry Cooke:

Climate Change Minister James Shaw has announced the members of a climate change committee and asked them to look at how to get agricultural emissions down.

The interim committee is chaired by David Prentice, who was most recently CEO and managing director of infrastructure firm Opus International Consultants, and features former Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright.

The interim group will be replaced when an independent Climate Change Commission takes over in May of 2019, when Shaw hopes to pass a Zero Carbon Act, with an amendment at select committee to deal with agriculture. . . 

MPI committed to efficient Mycoplasma bovis compensation payouts:

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is committed to helping farmers affected by the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis receive their due compensation and is working hard to process all current claims.

MPI’s director of response, Geoff Gwyn says MPI has not yet received compensation claims relating to its decision to direct the cull of some 22,000 cattle on infected properties, which MPI announced last month.

“However, we are aware some farmers are nervous about compensation timeframes and I would like to provide reassurance that we are running as fast and efficient a process as possible. . . 

$35,000 paid for Holstein calf – Sally Rae:

A six-week-old heifer calf from North Otago’s Busybrook Holsteins is believed to have set a New Zealand record, selling for $35,000.

The Bayne family held an on-farm “gold label” sale near Duntroon on Friday. The offering included both North American genetics and high-indexing New Zealand-bred cows.

The sale comprised calves, heifers and in-milk cows, with 45 lots sold in total – averaging more than $6700 and grossing $303,200. Buyers came from Northland to Southland, PGG Wrightson agent Andrew Reyland said. . . 

Providing insight into primary industries – Sally Rae:

She calls herself a multipotentialite.

Primary industries advocate Chanelle O’Sullivan wears a lot of hats and there is so much more to her than her Instagram handle, Just A Farmer’s Wife, would lead you to believe.

Indeed, she is a farmer’s wife, but she is also the mother of two energetic young children, an entrepreneur, a social media specialist, a futurist and someone with a never-ending source of ideas.

“Wherever I see anything, I see an opportunity,” she said.

Now she is getting excited about her latest venture — a business that combines her passion for the primary industries and technology to highlight New Zealand’s produce, careers, environment and skills. . .

Seeing trees for the wood :

The forestry sector is fired up with discussion about how to meet the Government’s One Billion Trees planting initiative. Partnering with red meat farmers to help them achieve what they want to achieve with trees in their businesses will be important to persuade any change of land-use, those attending a recent conference heard.

Delegates from throughout the forestry sector were in Wellington last month at ForestWood 2018 (21 March), a pan-sector conference drawing people from forestry companies to wood and paper manufacturers. . . 

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Cull all cattle on M bovis farms – MPI

March 27, 2018

The Ministry of Primary Industries has called for all cattle on properties infected with the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis to be culled.

“The depopulation of entire herds on all 28 Infected Properties (IPs) in New Zealand is a critical measure to control the spread of the disease and we will be working closely with those farmers to plan how this will happen,” says MPI’s response director Geoff Gwyn.

“This will be a big job and won’t happen overnight, but we’ll be meeting with the affected farmers in the coming days to discuss the operation, develop the plans and talk through compensation.”

All IP farmers will be compensated for their verifiable losses. MPI continues to build its compensation team to make sure farmers are compensated as quickly as possible. Once farms are de-populated and cleaned, these farmers can start re-building a disease-free herd from scratch.

“We understand this has been an incredibly difficult time for farmers while they wait for critical decisions to be made about managing and controlling this disease,” says Mr Gwyn.

“This cull will give those farmers back some certainty and control over the future of their farms, their animals and their livelihoods.

“We are able to take this decision now because we are confident Mycoplasma bovis is not well established in New Zealand.

“The testing of milk from every dairy farm in New Zealand is very well advanced and to date has only identified one new infected property.

“This, combined with MPI’s extensive surveillance work tracing every possible movement of animals from infected farms, gives us the confidence to say the disease is not widespread, but is limited to a network of farms connected by animal movements. Culling these animals is now the appropriate action.”

Non-infected farms that are under Restricted Places Notices (RPN) or Notices of Direction (NoDs) are not being asked to cull their herds at this point because infection has not yet been confirmed on those properties. Confirmation relies on the defining genetic test which provides complete confidence that animals on a farm are positive.

Mr Gwyn says MPI will work with farmers to develop individual management plans for each of these properties – until a decision on whether to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis or move to long-term management is made.

“We all want to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis – but it has to be technically possible, practically achievable and affordable for everyone.  Our focus is on the resilience of our dairy and beef industries which are such significant contributors to our economy, and on farmer well-being and the welfare of animals.

“Whatever option is taken, we will need to see some big changes in on-farm biosecurity and NAIT compliance. There remains a big job to do around this disease, and there is no quick exit from this situation.”

Some farmers have been very slack about record keeping. One reason for that is problems with the NAIT system.

Both the system and compliance must improve.

Mycoplasma bovis only affects cattle, it is not harmful to other animals or humans. Up to date, and 100% correct, record keeping is essential for tracing stock if, or when, there is another outbreak of this or any other disease – many of which would have more serious consequences for animal health, farmers and the economy than M. bovis.

While MPI with industry partners will continue to focus on surveillance and tracking the spread of the disease, there is critical work being done to model the potential spread of Mycoplasma bovis under different scenarios and in understanding the costs and benefits of decisions around eradication.

“People will say ‘why haven’t you done this already’.  In fact we have been working on this since the disease was detected and we depopulated 7 farms in December.  We halted further culling until we better understood the spread of the disease. We are now at that point where we have that understanding and can complete this work with confidence,” says Mr Gwyn.

“We now believe the disease is not endemic and we can complete this analysis and planning, but we will take care and time to get it right because decisions about the future management of this disease are too important to rush.”

The Ministry says cattle on 28 properties have been actively identified as having the disease,  22 have cattle remaining on them that will need to be culled.

This will be a huge and expensive undertaking but it is the only way there will be any chance of eradicating the disease.

The cull will be devastating for the affected farmers who will have spent years building up their herds but it has to be done and they must be properly compensated for the loss of their stock and income.

 


Rural round-up

February 25, 2018

M. bovis progarmme being speeded up – Sally Rae:

The Ministry for Primary Industries is accelerating its tracing and surveillance programme so a decision whether to proceed with Mycoplasma bovis eradication can be made as soon as possible.

It has urged any dairy and beef farmers who believe they may have animals at high risk of infection to make contact immediately.

”Right now, we need to hear from any farmers who have bought cows and calves or milk for calf feed from farms that have been publicly identified as infected. If these farmers haven’t already heard from us through our tracing work, we would dearly like to hear from them,” director of response Geoff Gwyn said.

The MPI was particularly interested to hear from those who had received cattle or calves from Southland-based Southern Centre Dairies Ltd at any time after January 1, 2016, and had not already been contacted by the MPI. . . 

Swede seed mix up in ‘human error’ leaves farmers with wrong variety – Brittany Pickett:

A “human error” in seed deliveries across much of the country has resulted in hundreds of farmers planting the wrong variety of swedes on their properties.  

PGG Wrightson Seeds has alerted farmers who bought the new seed variety, Hawkestone yellow-fleshed Cleancrop swede, that a different line of white-fleshed swede, HT-S57, had been distributed to customers instead.

HT-S57 swede was phased out in 2016 and replaced with the Hawkestone swede variety.

However, the HT-S57 seed was distributed to farmers for planting for winter feed instead of the new Hawkestone swede variety. The company said in a statement that the mistake was caused by human error.. . .

Demand leaves NZ livestock numbers low – Sally Rae:

Livestock numbers available for processing over the rest of the season are lower than in any of the previous five seasons, a forecast by Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Economic Service shows.

Dry conditions and strong prices for lamb, mutton and beef in the December quarter drove high processing volumes.

The average values per tonne for lamb, mutton and beef exports were at record or near record levels in the December quarter, the forecast says.

The total number of lambs available for processing in 2017-18 was forecast to be up 1.3% on the previous season. . . 

Opotiki kiwifruit growers win BOP Ballance Farm Environment Awards:

Kiwifruit growers Mark and Catriona White and their Coastal Kiwis orchard have won the Bay of Plenty Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

Ten years ago, the couple embarked on a quest to find an improved lifestyle for their family away from the city and found it on a bare block of land near Opotiki.

Their work and passion have transformed part of an organic dairy farm into the successful 5.85ha orchard it is today, the Awards judges said. . . 

Rotorua and Hokitika farmers named as finalists for Māori excellence in farming award:

Two dairy farming operations are the finalists in the Ahuwhenua Trophy BNZ Māori Excellence in Farming Award.

They are Rotorua’s Onuku Māori Lands’ Trust and the Proprietors of Mawhera Incorporation (Hokitika).

The Onuku Māori Lands Trust’s Boundary Road Farm is a 72 hectare block near Lake Rotomahana, about 30 kilometres south of Rotorua. The farm milks 220 cows which produce about 90,000kg of milk solids. The trust  consists of four dairy farms, a drystock farm, forestry, natural reserves and a manuka plantation.  Onuku has also developed outside the farm gates, starting an export honey business called Onuku Honey. . . 

New beef product on the cards – Hugh Stringleman:

Fast-growing dairy-beef steers slaughtered at about 12 months of age could be the basis of a new-generation beef product range.

Rearing those cattle for the beef industry could address some of the concerns in the rural-urban divide about the two million annual bobby calf slaughter, Massey University researcher Nicola Schreurs said.

The short growing period to maximise growth efficiency should also help address concerns about beef’s high environmental footprint, a consequence of the animals’ two- or three-year life.

She told farmers at the annual Limestone Downs field day in northern Waikato about a  pilot study at Massey’s Keebles Farm where 80 Hereford-Kiwicross steers are being fast-tracked. . . 

 

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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. . . 


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.


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