Farmer’s frustration with MPI response

BECKIE WILSON
beckie.wilson@age.co.nz

Two months of sleepless nights, stressful days and a loss of cattle sales has left award-winning Pahiatua farmer Graeme Dyke furious with the Ministry of Primary Industries over its handling of the devastating cattle disease on a neighbouring property.

“At this present time, because I live next to an infected Landcorp farm, my business is ruined.”

Mr Dyke’s property is one of eight farms adjacent to Landcorp’s Rangedale Station, site of last week’s confirmed Mycoplasma bovis infection, in Pori, about 40km east of Eketahuna.

He is questioning MPI’s response to the infection among Landcorp farm’s herd, and the National Animal Identification and Tracing [NAIT] system that appears to have failed.

Mr Dyke says he wants to have his herd tested because about 30 Friesian bulls from the infected farm went on to his land last November. But MPI says his herd is not eligible for testing.

Mycoplasma bovis was not even on Mr Dyke’s radar as a concern until two months ago.

Since March 13, when the Rangedale Station manager told Mr Dyke they were testing for the infection, he has been overwhelmed with stress.

With bull sale season looming, Mr Dyke has already lost five sales because of his property’s proximity to an infected farm.

“I have put a lot of money, time and sweat, and sometimes blood, into this herd and my farm over the past 20 years . . . and no one wants any animals whether they are infected or no.”

On April 4, Mr Dyke found out Rangedale Station had some tests come back positive for the disease.

He expected MPI to immediately put his farm on a restricted movement notice, meaning no cattle could leave the farm – he was shocked that did not happen.

It was not until a month later, on May 2, that Landcorp officially announced its herd harboured the disease, and held a meeting with its neighbours and MPI.

Mr Dyke said he and other farmers left the meeting feeling more frustrated than ever.

At that meeting, Mr Dyke asked the MPI senior policy analyst if his cattle could be tested – the short answer was “no”.

To help put his mind at ease, Mr Dyke found a vet who undertakes commercial Mycoplasma bovis testing.

At a cost of $25 a head and vet costs, he got his sale bulls tested, which came back with a “not detected” result for the first test.

Testing can take up to three rounds for the infection to be detected over a period of six to eight weeks, Mr Dyke said.

Mr Dyke had not been contacted by MPI until Thursday – “I do not find that acceptable”.

After many phone calls, MPI finally agreed to test his breeding herd and, after much discussion, he managed to convince MPI to test his cattle on Tuesday – down from the two- to six-week timeframe they originally
gave him.

Mr Dyke bought his property 14 years ago, which is now Te Maewa Devon Stud, and breeds Red Devon cattle and sheep.

Last year, he won medals in Beef and Lamb’s Steak of Origin competition for the most tender steak in the country.

“Most farmers across the country want answers,” Mr Dyke said.

The infection was first found in the South Island in July last year and now two North Island farms have been infected.

“Why was the Cook Strait not closed to all cattle movements then, and how does it take five months to track cattle to a farm before they are first tested?”

Mr Dyke wanted to thank Federated Farmers, and Wairarapa MP Alastair Scott, for their help on the issue.

MPI’s Mycoplasma bovis incident controller Dr Catherine Duthie said the testing of cattle was prioritised according to risk.

“In the case of neighbouring farms, it is accepted that the greatest risk of disease spread is through the movement of infected animals – not by casual over-the-fence contact between cattle,” she said.

Compensation was only available where losses had incurred as a result of MPI’s order to cull cattle or restrict the movement of herds, she said.

On Rangedale Station, not all cattle were tested but sufficient numbers had been tested to confirm the infection was present, Dr Duthie said.