Three years on since the disease was first confirmed in NZ, industry leaders are confident the world-first attempt to eradicate the disease is making positive gains towards eradication being within reach in the coming seven years.
As of July 22, the M bovis programme had just four confirmed active properties on its books.
Of these, two are dairy and one beef in the North Island, with one beef property in Canterbury.
Of the four, two still have cattle to be culled while two are depopulated and completing cleaning and disinfection.
Movement restrictions are in place on 62 farms while their herds are being tested, down 74% from the number of farms under notices in July last year.
“Where we are at the moment, gives us a real confidence of achieving eradication,” M bovis programme director Stuart Anderson said. Adding the job isn’t finished yet.
“Spring is coming and we do expect to pick up a few more yet through bulk tank milk testing,” Anderson said.
“But we are a low base now, and that gives strong confidence that we are on track.”
Anderson said it will take another year to get the last of the cases before the programme shifts into a surveillance phase, in which whole beef and milk herd sampling will continue for up to six years.
“We are still basing the programme on being a 10-year programme.
“It’s the long tail-end that needs to be done now to have 100% confidence that we are free of M bovis, but all signs are pointing to that,” he said.
Beyond the 10 years, ongoing biosecurity processes will continue both in respect to import controls and on-farm biosecurity and surveillance.
“We will be working around border and on-farm biosecurity measures and working with farmers and vets to ensure they continue to be vigilant in terms of recognising signs of disease in animals on farm, ” he explained.
Anderson said the programme’s processes have improved immensely overtime but compensation remained the biggest challenge.
“On the whole, there’s been significant improvements in how the programme and its processes work for farmers but we are still working hard in the compensation area to get a smoother and quicker process, particularly for the more complex cases,” Anderson said.
While it remains unclear how M bovis arrived in the country, Anderson said the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is confident that border biosecurity measures are robust.
Biosecurity and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said the key to its success are the eradication programme partners DairyNZ and Beef and Lamb NZ.
“They were part of the bold decision to attempt to eradicate this disease and have been part of our efforts since the very beginning,” he said.
O’Connor said it was estimated that allowing the disease to spread could cause $1.3 billion in economic losses in the first 10 years alone, along with substantial animal welfare issues and serious ongoing challenges for farmers having to manage the disease within their herds.
“One key measure of success of our 10-year eradication plan, the Estimated Dissemination Rate (EDR), shows strongly that we have M bovis firmly in our sights,” O’Connor explained.
“If the EDR is greater than one, then the disease is growing. If it’s below one, we’re shrinking the disease.”
The EDR is now at 0.4, which is down from over two at the start of the outbreak, so we are looking harder to find fewer infected animals.
O’Connor acknowledged the eradication effort has not been without substantial challenges, and he said the impact on affected farmers can’t be under-estimated.
“Farmers deserve a lot of credit for their efforts. We are continuing to improve processes and work hard to support their wellbeing and recovery, including getting their compensation claims paid as quickly as possible,” he said.
“The next 12 months is about ensuring that we have found all infected herds.”
This will involve ongoing bulk tank milk surveillance, nationwide beef surveillance and on-farm testing of identified at-risk herds.
“We will not let up on our efforts and will ensure that this disease is gone so that we can farm free from it in the future,” O’Connor said.
M bovis was first detected in NZ on July 22, 2017
In May 2018, government and industry bodies DairyNZ and Beef and Lamb NZ, with support from Fonterra, Federated Farmers, the Dairy Companies Association of NZ, Meat Industry Association and the NZ Veterinary Association, made the decision to attempt a world-first eradication of the disease.
The projected budget for the 10-year programme is $870 million, with 68% provided by the government and 32% provided by farmer levies.
By the numbers
As of July 21 there were 250 confirmed infected properties; four of which were still active, and 246 were cleared.
69 North Island, 181 South Island: 58 dairy, 137 beef, 55 other
157,854 animals culled
1,517,203 tests completed
$166m compensation paid
Hopeful over M bovis progress
Mid Canterbury dairy farmer Frank Peters has been embroiled in the Mycoplasma bovis eradication programme since his 1400-cow herd was first detected with the disease in early 2018.
At the time, Peters slammed The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) for its decision-making and lack of transparency, urging officials to share more of its M bovis response information and everyone one would be a lot better off.
He acknowledged in speaking out, he was going where others feared to tread.
“Our cows have got the death wish. Our herd will be wiped out with no assurance it’s even proving anything,” Peters said.
“There’s been plenty of tears and anger.
“We are all being told to keep quiet but at the end of the day if we share what we know we will all be better off.”
Peters now believes he has been proven right.
“I’ve been in it for two and half years, it’s great they think they have got eradication sussed – that’s the best news,” Peters said.
“It would be heartache for us after what we have been though if it’s all been a lost cause.”
Peters said a lot was learned in three years, especially for MPI.
“I believe we were guinea pigs and while we are still alive, we are kicking, only just,” he said.
“We are struggling.”
Peters is happy to see that the programme has undergone significant improvements, that while no less devastating, has made the pathway for affected farmers somewhat smoother.
“I am happy for the farmers who were picked up later that while still no less heartbreaking, MPI has listened and the processes are more flexible and farmer friendly including consultation to get better operational solutions.”
Adding that he is personally not out of it yet.
“I only received my first milk loss claim payout a fortnight ago and am still waiting on a lot more,” he said.
“The impact has knocked us around with interest costs, on top of everything we had to borrow money to cover milk losses.
“We are not getting the same production from the herd and we’re struggling to breed the high-performance herd that we lost when 55-years of genetics breeding went down the gurgler.
“But we must move on, we can’t keep dwelling on it, we have to get on and continue farming and do the best we can.
“This has bloody near killed us and most definitely has taken a part of us we can never replace.”