Thursday, December 7, 2023

Vet unconvinced by Ospri change

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In an effort to improve its communication with farmers Ospri is switching to a regional approach but a Hawke’s Bay vet is not convinced it will help get on top of bovine TB and is worried an explosion of the disease is not far away.
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Ospri chief executive Steve Stuart says the company, a partnership between the Government and primary industries, has listened to feedback from farmers about the need to communicate more with stakeholders and to be more visible on the ground where it works.

So it plans to appoint three regional general managers, one for the North Island and two – in Christchurch and Dunedin – in the South Island.

There will also be six new regional extension roles based in Invercargill, Christchurch, Greymouth, Napier, Stratford and Whangarei.

Often the direct point of call for farmers and landowners, those in the extension roles will support farmers, industry groups and other stakeholders in their traceability and animal disease management obligations.

That includes running workshops and events, building relationships with communities and preparing and communicating planned operations with farmers, stakeholders, councils and community groups.

Stuart says Ospri has lost contact with its farming base along with regional and district councils and the changes will help it better connect with those stakeholders as well as being able to provide feedback information and support in a way that could not be done from Wellington.

Wairoa Farm Vets senior vet Helen Taylor is not sure putting people in regional offices is going to have any impact on controlling the spread of bovine TB.

The way the disease is spreading in Hawke’s Bay indicates a piece of the jigsaw is missing and finding it should be Ospri’s focus.

“Either it’s been here before and not been picked up or something else is helping it spread.

“There doesn’t seem to be any thinking outside the box to find out what that is and whether they have more people shuffling in Wellington or Napier it won’t make any difference – the primary problem is TB is out there and continuing to spread.”

Taylor, who is English and has worked as a vet in her homeland, says cows interact with a sub-mob within a herd and normally when one gets TB pass it passes the disease on to others in their sub-mob.

“If there was a herd of 100 cows then about eight would hang out together and if one of those eight got TB from a possum the others would also get it.

“But we’re not seeing groups of eight or 10 cows reacting. It doesn’t make sense.”

She is also concerned about how wide the spread of infected cattle is in Hawke’s Bay – from north of Tutira to Patoka, west of the Napier-Taupo highway, down to Puketapu, southwest of Napier.

Unless more work is done to understand how TB is spreading in the region, such as investigating whether it’s possibly being passed on by pig hunters’ dogs, Taylor is worried it will only get worse.

“The geographical spread is huge. 

“I’ve got grave fears it could explode. 

“We’re not ahead of the game. We just seem to be chasing it.”

Taylor says coming on top of the drought and accompanying feed shortage she worries about TB putting undue stress on some farmers.

“They’ve just got too much on their plate. I worry for them and they need to know more, which they are not being told.”

There are 17 infected herds in Hawke’s Bay with 12 having had one clear whole-herd test. Two clear tests six months apart are needed to achieve clear status.

Investigations into two new Hawke’s Bay herds began during the past week.

Stuart is confident Ospri is on the right track to eradicate TB from cattle and deer herds by 2026, not just in Hawke’s Bay but nationwide. 

There are 33 infected herds nationally, 19 of them on their first clear test.

Stuart acknowledges some Hawke’s Bay farmers have been critical of the speed of the pest control response in the region but says that work had to stop during the covid-19 lockdown because pest controllers were not considered essential workers.

He is confident those operations will get back up to speed very quickly.

Poison drops

Aerial 1080 drops over central North Island high country implicated in the Hawke’s Bay bovine TB outbreak are under way.

Operations are scheduled to continue throughout winter and include the Waitara Valley, the source of the Hawke’s Bay outbreak.

A northern Tararua predator control operation, in collaboration with the Department of Conservation’s Project Kaka and covering 70,000ha between Manawatu and Wairarapa, is scheduled for late July.

The aerial disease management season will wind up in August and September with operations targeting possums in just under 20,000ha in the Turangi and Timahanga areas.

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