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Farmers ‘take hit’ as infected animal slaughter wraps up

BECKIE WILSON
beckie.wilson@age.co.nz

A Wairarapa farm infected with cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis yesterday sent off its last load of 65 bulls to be culled.

Bideford farmer Bryce Stevenson said he and his wife, Julie, were now focusing on getting through the 60-day stand-down period, during which time their farm must be cleaned and remain stock-free.

The Ministry for Primary Industries announced the farm was infected on June 7, but Stevenson said it was not until early last week that the first load of their 426 mostly Friesian cattle was sent to be killed.

The couple do not expect to receive compensation until the last of the farm’s cattle have been culled.

After what MPI call “depopulation”, there is a 60-day period when no cattle can be on the property, and all sheds and equipment must be cleaned and disinfected.

“We’re looking forward to getting through the next 60 days as fast as possible,” Stevenson said.

There have been 54 farms infected across the country, but 13 farms have already been depopulated of stock and cleaned.

There are five infected farms in the North Island.

The Landcorp-owned Pahiatua farm that was revealed to have the disease in early May has had its 936 animals culled, Landcorp head of communications Simon King said.

All culling was finished on June 19, and “we are working through the cleaning process, which we expect to have completed in August”, he said.

Wairarapa Federated Farmers president William Beetham said he had worked with MPI, along with the East Coast Rural Support Trust, to get the Stevensons’ cattle culled as quick as possible.

“Whilst perhaps we would have hoped it might have happened quicker, as an industry we need to make sure we go through the proper steps to ensure it is done correctly,” he said.

Beetham hoped the compensation process was done in a “timely manner”.

“[The Stevensons] are taking a big hit for the industry by depopulating and helping with the response.”

While the Stevensons have lost all their cattle, they were in the best position to get their herd numbers back up by spring in time for grass growth, Beetham said.

“We were really keen to ensure the property was depopulated as quickly as possible, then they could have their 60-day stand-down period and get farming again.”

Nationally, about 28,000 animals had been culled, as of July 6.

The Government made the decision to eradicate the disease on May 28.

The world-first attempt is estimated to cost $886m over a decade, still well under the estimated cost of $1.3b of not acting.

The Government will meet 68 per cent of the cost, and Dairy NZ and Beef and Lamb New Zealand will meet the remainder.

Breaking down the cost

On June 11, Cabinet agreed to allocate $472m for the first two years of the phased eradication, according to information released to the Times-Age under the Official Information Act.

The breakdown of the money sees more than half of it, $258m, allocated for the next two years.

Of that, $111.9m is allocated to operational costs, which include depopulation and disinfection of properties, tracking and tracing of animals, surveillance and testing, research and science, and movement control management.

Compensation, estimated at $37m, is available to anyone who has verifiable losses as a result of the culling of stock and lost milk production.

Compensation is budgeted to be $17m in 2019/20.

MPI readiness and response services director Geoff Gwyn said after a “change in timing and recognition of compensation expenses”, $100m was moved from the current financial year to last year’s budget.

Systems resilience gets $21.1m, to cover farmer support, improving the National Animal Identification and Tracing system, market access and trade, and strengthening biosecurity.

“While an estimate of the likely cost is $472m based on 90 per cent confidence, there is still significant uncertainty about the actual costs that will be incurred,” Gwyn said.

As a contingency, $88m will be held until “actual costs become clearer”.

For the financial year 2019/20, $106m has been allocated.

The division of the costs over the remaining eight years of the eradication is likely to be considered in the Budget 2020.