Monday, April 22, 2024

Farm know-how needed to improve M bovis programme

Neal Wallace
Ben and Sarah Walling have experienced every possible emotion in their dealings with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) during three Mycoplasma bovis incidents on their Southland farm, but their overriding sentiment is to laugh. “You’ve got to learn to laugh about it or it just eats you up,” Ben, a Five Rivers calf rearer and bull finisher, said.
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Despite that, he has a daily reminder of his situation; an ongoing legal dispute involving “hundreds of thousands of dollars” compensation sought from MPI, which he attributes to a rigid and inflexible system that ignores the reality of farming.

The dispute relates to the impact of falling beef schedule prices and supply contracts being cancelled while his compensation claim was settled.

Walling was interviewed for a University of Otago psychosocial study looking at the impact on farmers dealing with MPI over the M bovis outbreak, for which he describes his dealings during his first outbreak in December 2017 as “horrific.”

Some staff were excellent but others were difficult, he says, which drew the process out to seven months.

“There are a lot of really good MPI people who tried really hard but they were stuck in a bureaucratic process which was horrific and which hamstrung them,” he said.

Excellent MPI staff made dealing with the second outbreak on his farm efficient and relatively seamless, completed in just two months.

Walling says those staff were subsequently let go and dealing with MPI for his third infection was worse than the first.

“They had let those people go and I was dealing with people in Christchurch and Wellington who thought they knew what they were doing but didn’t,” he said.

“It was horrific, but they let so much knowledge and trust that had been built up walk out the door.”

He says MPI needs to use people who understand farmers and farming, such as those he dealt with in his second outbreak.

“Their knowledge took the stress down several notches because you knew what was the end point, what the goals were and how we were going to get there,” he said.

Despite Walling’s reservations about MPI, he says M bovis must be eradicated.

“No matter what, we don’t want to farm with this disease when you see what it does to young stock,” he said.

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