Mycoplasma bovis is affecting people all along the cattle supply chain.
Oamaru-based Whitestone Livestock Ltd principal John Cheesman told the Oamaru Mailthis week the bacterial disease was “a real bloody issue”.
M. bovis was identified for the first time in New Zealand in late July on farms near Glenavy owned by the Van Leeuwen Dairy Group.
It has now been confirmed on 24 properties – a Southland farm was added to the list in Tuesday’s update from the Ministry for Primary Industries. Eleven of the infected properties are in the Waitaki and Waimate districts and there are eight in Southland, two near Ashburton, one near Rangiora, one at Middlemarch and one near Hastings.
“It’s not really affecting the Waiareka Saleyards as much as farmers’ and everybody else’s confidence to buy animals from this district and any other district,” Mr Cheesman said.
“We’re finding in a lot of cases where we’re trying to transact animals, particularly in situations where they have in the past been traded with the North Island, people are walking from opportunities presented to us that in the past they would have purchased.
“It’s very disappointing.”
He was concerned for farmers who had traded stock in good faith and were now stymied by ministry biosecurity controls, to the detriment of their farming businesses.
He understood some farms had to retain all their livestock because it was not allowed to be moved under ministry protocols.
“It gives those guys very little room to jiggle.”
Whitestone Livestock clients who had bought cattle from properties that later turned out to be infected had been put under movement control in December, but two weeks ago their animals had not even been tested, he said.
He believed the testing regime was “under a lot of pressure”.
“This disease was found in July. Every service bull that went out in October, November and December – none were tested.
“MPI missed the boat in that regard.
“Recent weaner bull sales have seen huge numbers of stock sold, with absolutely no testing and no way of knowing if they were infected. They’ve gone right through the country.”
Mr Cheesman was appalled that farmers with infected stock were being “treated as lepers”.
“They’re not the lepers; they’re just unlucky to be involved. They’re in an unenviable position.
“Perfectly innocent parties are being impacted and tested.
“It’s got to be that way but is affecting everyone’s businesses.”
One client whose herd was tested three times and showed no sign of the disease still struggled to sell her stock because it came from an infected region. She had to sell at a discount.
“It’s not her fault. It’s no-one else’s fault, either.
“We all take a hit, all the way along the chain.”
Mr Cheesman predicted the service bull situation next year would be “a nightmare”. Many farmers would not accept that testing was reliable enough to be trusted.
M. bovis was having “a hell of an impact on the morale of those affected”, he said.
Not only were people worrying about animal health and their financial positions, but some were also feeling guilty about unwittingly spreading the disease.
“We sold cattle from infected properties to third parties. We didn’t know that was the case until July.
“The sooner we can get to the stage where we know where we are, the better.”
Mr Cheesman thought eradication was unlikely now, and that managing the disease was the long-term project.
“It’s probably not a hell of a lot worse that Johnes or BVD.
“No doubt at some time a simple test will be available to farmers that will be similar to the Tb or BVD test. The sooner that becomes a reality the better.”