PSA could have come in pollen

December 19, 2011

MAF has commissioned an independent review of its  its importing rules as part of ongoing work into how the kiwifruit vine disease Psa entered New Zealand.

Director General Wayne McNee says the review is a sensible step to ensure that MAF’s systems are as good as they can be and will be welcomed by the kiwifruit industry which had requested such an inquiry.

The review follows a series of investigations that MAF has undertaken since the outbreak of Psa in Bay of Plenty orchards.

He says in order to help the kiwifruit industry manage the disease’s spread, MAF has looked into a number of possible ways the bacterium could have entered New Zealand and has produced a report summarising the results of those investigations.

“The report does not identify a definite means of introduction, but does find there are a number of potential pathways, including people, equipment, and pollen.

It wasn’t known that pollen could carry Psa when rules were changed in 2007 to allow it to be imported.

MAF’s importing rules at the time of the Psa outbreak permitted imports of overseas kiwifruit pollen by the kiwifruit industry and others under strict conditions.

Any imported pollen had to have been sourced from unopened flowers to avoid any issues of bacterial contamination. At the time of granting pollen import permits, there was no internationally published science that indicated pollen was able to spread Psa.

“Given the new information that has emerged on the potential for pollen to spread the disease, I want to review our processes for assessing risk, and incorporating changing science. We still cannot categorically say that Psa in pollen can infect healthy vines – there’s more work to be done to prove that – so we still cannot definitively say that pollen was the way that Psa entered New Zealand,” Mr McNee says.

Imports of pollen were suspended at the time of the Psa outbreak.

The impact of PSA on the kiwifruit industry is as devastating as foot and mouth disease would be to livestock farming.

It is a reminder of how vulnerable agriculture and horticulture are and the importance of tough biosecurity rules.

Working out how Psa got here won’t help those affected but it could help prevent other incursions of pests and diseases.

Feds urge NZers to be biosecurity 1st XV

September 8, 2011

Federated farmers is urging us all to be the biosecurity 1st XV:

“We welcome Rugby World Cup visitors to see, taste and wear some of the best food and fibre in the world,” says Dr William Rolleston, Federated Farmers Vice-President and the Federation’s Biosecurity spokesperson.

“New Zealand is unique in that we are relatively free of major pests and diseases affecting agriculture in other parts of the world. While we all wish to see visitors enter our country quickly to enjoy our great Kiwi hospitality, biosecurity is one thing that must not be compromised.

“The office of the Minister of Biosecurity has assured Federated Farmers that biosecurity standards are not being relaxed due to the world cup. The Rugby World Cup will be a great boon for the economy but it would be a tragedy, if any gain was wiped out by a major incursion.

“That’s a message the Government fully understands, but we also need New Zealand’s public and businesses in the biosecurity team.

“Many visitors will be staying with friends, family or in paid-for accommodation. We really need the public, from hotel cleaners to friends and family to play the role of fullback. Each country has a list of its worst pests and diseases; they are the players we don’t want in New Zealand for Rugby World Cup 2011.

Many visitors, and far too many New Zealanders, don’t understand the importance of our rigorous biosecurity regulations and checks.

People used to travelling between countries where the border is nothing more than a line on a map aren’t used to the requirements to clean shoes and leave behind food, plants and other material which might harbour unwelcome visitors.

Our island status offers good protection from incursions by pests and diseases which could threaten export industries but unwitting visitors pose a threat which makes Feds’ warning, and tortured rugby analogy, very timely.

The message has added resonance as it coincides with the news a Fielding man has been prosecuted for keeping a snake.

Nathan Bush, 38, pleaded guilty to acquiring a snake in the Palmerston North District Court. He was sentenced to four months imprisonment.

In sentencing Bush, Judge Callander stressed that New Zealand has a snake-free environment and it is important to keep snakes out.

He intended the sentence to denounce Bush’s behaviour and also act as a deterrent.

The attraction of snakes escapes me and I can’t fathom why anyone would want to have one as a pet when it’s illegal.

Biosecurity month reminder of need for vigilence

July 12, 2011

An overseas visitor was amused about how concerned border control staff were about dirt on his shoes.

“I thought New Zealanders must have a very high standard of dress,” he said.

We explained that they weren’t concerend about his satorial standards but the risk of introducing pests or diseases which could endanger native flora and fauna and primary produce.

That message isn’t clear to all visitors, or locals, so  Biosecurity Month  provides a timely reminder of the need for eternal vigilence:

From an emperor penguin on Peka Peka beach to the kiwifruit vine disease Psa and the alga didymo which congests waterways, it’s always possible that a new plant, animal or microbe will arrive in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Biosecurity Institute has designated July as “Biosecurity month” to raise awareness of the work done by those involved in protecting New Zealand’s natural environment from pests and diseases.

Peter Thomson, MAF Acting Deputy Director-General says collaboration is key.

“New Zealand’s biosecurity system is designed to balance the careful management of risks, with protecting our ability to trade and travel internationally,” says Peter.

“MAF leads a biosecurity system that operates on three fronts: working overseas to stop travellers and importers from bringing pests here; working at the border to identify and eliminate pests that do arrive; and working in New Zealand to find, manage or eliminate pests that have established here.”

“Collaboration is the key to keeping our country safe from incursions, and MAF works in partnership with other organisations with an interest in biosecurity, such as the Department of Conservation, regional councils, affected industry and iwi.

“But all New Zealanders have a role to play.

“For example: farmers need to make sure they buy disease-free stock; boaties need to check, clean and dry their gear between waterways; and for anyone who finds something unusual, it means calling MAF to report it.”

There is more information at

Good news x 3

June 15, 2011

1.  After tax wages outstripped prices in march year:

After-tax wages continue to rise faster than prices, Finance Minister Bill English says.

The real after-tax average wage increased 2.5 per cent in the year to March 2011, after accounting for all consumer price increases including food prices and the one-off rise in GST last October.

“Everyone’s circumstances are different, and we appreciate things remain challenging for many New Zealanders. But it’s encouraging to see that, on average, take-home wages continue to rise faster than prices,” Mr English told Parliament today.

“In the latest March year, the after-tax average wage grew 7.1 per cent in nominal terms and 2.5 per cent after adjusting for inflation.

“This means that since September 2008, after-tax wages have increased 17 per cent in nominal terms and 10 per cent after adjusting for inflation.

“That compares with real growth of just 4 per cent over the entire nine years to September 2008.”

“To put these figures into perspective, New Zealand’s 2.5 per cent increase in inflation-adjusted after-tax wages in the latest year compares with just 0.6 per cent real growth in Australia.”

The figures use data on average weekly ordinary time earnings from Statistics New Zealand’s Quarterly Employment Survey. This is the official series used to calculate the wage floor for New Zealand Superannuation. Comparable data is drawn from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

“This Government is committed to helping New Zealanders get ahead, enjoy higher incomes and lower interest rates for longer,” Mr English says. “This will require continuing change, year after year, to put the economy on a more competitive footing.”

2. Outlook for economy continues to improve:

The best terms of trade since the early 1970s and growing business confidence are bringing a positive outlook for the New Zealand economy, according to the BusinessNZ Planning Forecast for the June quarter 2011.

The BusinessNZ Planning Forecast incorporates BusinessNZ’s Economic Conditions Index (ECI) which tracks 33 indicators, including GDP, export volumes, commodity prices and inflation, debt and confidence figures.

The ECI for the June quarter is 22. This is up 10 from the previous quarter and up 10 from a year ago.

Key factors include the continuing rise in world commodity prices and continued strong growth in New Zealand’s largest trading partners Australia and China.

Projections of 3-4% growth for 2012 and 2013 appear feasible.

3. MAF expects good returns for primary produce to continue in the medium term:

MAF’s Situation and Outlook for New Zealand Agriculture  and Forestry says:

New Zealand exporters are receiving high prices for logs, wool, lamb, timber, beef and dairy products as the rebounding global economy drives demand for commodities.

With the exception of horticulture, these rises are more broadly based than the 2008 rise, which mainly affected dairy prices.

Short-term supply disruptions such as droughts and floods in various parts of the world are a significant factor supporting recent agricultural price increases.

At the same time, the strength of demand coming through from emerging markets, the recovery in many developed economies, and continuing demand for agricultural resources for biofuel production has led
the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to revise upwards its view of medium-term international agricultural prices.

The relative strength in the New Zealand dollar has seen only a portion of these foreign currency price gains passed through to New Zealand farmers and foresters. The strong New Zealand dollar has, however, also reduced the
impact of price rises in imports, especially fuel and fertiliser.

Beyond 2012, steady production growth in dairy, forestry, wine and kiwifruit, together with an assumed depreciation in the New Zealand dollar, leads to strong forecast growth in export revenues.

There is light at the end of the tunnel.

It isn’t a train coming towards us, it’s daylight and a sunny day at that.

Rural round-up

December 5, 2010

MAF director-general plans to be visible – Neal Wallace interviews Wayne McNee:

The new director-general of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is looking forward to re-acquainting himself with those who he says work in “the engine room of the economy”.

Wayne McNee, who was raised on a North Otago farm, started his new position last Monday, and said he did not underestimate the importance of the role to New Zealanders and the New Zealand economy. . .

 Telford Polytech to be Lincoln run:

While it’s been described as a merger, the assets of Telford Polytechnic such as buildings, other improvements and staff contracts, will be transferred to Lincoln University without any cash changing hands.

The Telford brand will continue to be recognised, says Lincoln University vice-chancellor Professor Roger Field, with Telford becoming a division of the university and its 880 hectare Telford farm in South Otago remaining in trust ownership and management by the farm training institute. . .

Farm sales hit by doubt over OIO hurdles:

Uncertainty over foreign land deals is thought to be weighing heavily on efforts to sell a group of dairy farms in the central North Island.

Twenty-nine “designer” dairy farms created by Carter Holt Harvey around Tokoroa have been sitting on the market since early this year.

The company initially hoped to sell them for $224.5 million.

But a real estate agent involved in the marketing effort says interested parties are waiting for the outcome of the Crafar farms deal to set the tone on foreign farm ownership. . .

Wheat growers call in Comerce Commission:

New Zealand grain growers are appealing to the Commerce Commission and other government agencies amid fears large multinationals are achieving a dominant position in the local market and limiting access to markets for local produce.

“Our concerns are not solely regarding [Canadian company] Viterra but a general loss of transparency of grain markets and vertical integration across several multinationals operating in New Zealand,” said David Clark, chairman of the Mid Canterbury Grain and Seed Section of Federated Farmers. . .

Lamb stance comes up short: Jon Morgan writes:

When I asked two of the biggest meat companies, Silver Fern and Alliance, what effect they expected a 2.8 million plunge in lamb numbers to have on them, they said they were insouciant, which is a French word meaning they couldn’t care less.

I don’t believe this for one moment. Calling on my basic French again, they are talking merde du boeuf, or in patois (with appropriate gesticulation) – “conneries!”.

I don’t hold it against them. You would hardly expect them to reveal to their competitors their true concerns. But they must be at least a trifle uneasy. . .

It all bodes well for hazelnuts:

The seventh annual New Zealand Gourmet Oil Competition was held in conjunction with the Canterbury A&P Association annual show. The competition, open to New Zealand-produced olive, walnut, avocado and hazelnut oil, attracted more than 40 entries, with the judges awarding 25 medals. . .

New MAF DG from North Otago

October 15, 2010

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s new Chief Executive and Director General is Wayne McNee .

He’s been CE of the Ministry of Fisheries for nearly three years and before that was CE of Pharmac.

“In his current role, Mr McNee is responsible for managing New Zealand’s fisheries resources worth approximately $1.6 billion per annum, and employs around 460 staff in 19 offices in New Zealand. . .

. . . In his previous role as Chief Executive of PHARMAC, Mr McNee was responsible for an operating budget of $15 million and approximately 50 staff, and a pharmaceutical budget of almost $1 billion dollars . . .”

He will take up the appointment next month.

The official announcement says he has a Bachelor of Pharmacy and PG Dip in Clinical Pharmacy from the University of Otago and has undertaken general management programmes at Monash, Oxford and Stanford Universities.

It doesn’t also say Wayne comes from North Otago. He grew up in Enfield and went to Waitaki Boys’ High.

PKE brings biosecutiry risk

November 4, 2009

Federated Farmers has been questioning the biosecurity risk from imports of Palm Kernel Extract  for some time and Rural News reports that risk has now been officially recognised.

Foot and mouth disease could reach New Zealand in palm kernel but steps are finally being taken to close down the pathway, says Federated Farmers.

Biosecurity spokesman John Hartnell says he understands Biosecurity NZ is working with its Australian counterpart to tackle what it now admits is a gap in the current import health standard.

‘There is a big hole in the process and that’s the time the product sits on the ground between when it leaves the crusher and when it is loaded on the boat.

Greenpeace has been campaigning against PKE imports on environmental grounds. The biosecuirty risk is far more serious.

The current import health standard relies on heating during oil extraction, rendering the meal sterile, but meal is often stored before shipment, sometimes on bare earth.

That provides a window for insect infestation and, worse still, contamination with potential foot and mouth disease bearing material such as soil or animal remains, says Hartnell.

That risk might be small but it is not something we can afford to ignore.

The detection of atypical scrapie (also known as Nor 98) in a single sheep’s brain last week almost went unnoticed. MAF was upfront about it, explained how it was detected and the implications of the find, including most importantly that it doesn’t change our scrapie-free status.

Even a false alarm about Foot & Mouth disease would be far more serious. The hoax letter sent in 2005 which said the disease was on Waiheke Island, caused a dip in the dollar and threatened exports.

No matter how cheap PKE is, unless it can be guaranteed foot and mouth free it is too expensive.

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