Farmers have been taken aback by the number of high risk farms — 300 — that will soon be contacted by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) as it ramps up its programme to eradicate the Mycoplasma bovis cattle disease.

They also say MPI's surge in activity could not have come at a worse time as many gear up for what is the busiest time for shifting stock.

MPI said last week that there would be higher activity in the lead up to autumn and winter stock movements to limit the risk of the disease spreading.

It means an increase in the number of properties contacted about the movement of risk animals, and a higher number of properties than usual will be placed under movement restrictions, said MPI's M. bovis programme director, Geoff Gwyn.

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"This is happening in a short period because of increased surveillance late last year, which has resulted in a peak in the number of high-risk properties that we have identified, and the desire to get ahead of the curve before autumn and winter stock movements get into full swing," he said.

Over the next few weeks the ministry will contact as a priority about 300 farmers who have had high-risk animals move on to their property.

"We would expect 250 of those to have notice of direction movement controls placed on them immediately and, following testing, that 10 per cent to 12 per cent may become confirmed properties," Gwyn said.

He said about two-thirds of the properties were beef farms and the remainder were dairy farms.

Federated Farmers president Katie Milne. Photo/File.
Federated Farmers president Katie Milne. Photo/File.

Executives from Federated Farmers, MPI and Dairy NZ met in Ashburton this week to discuss the latest developments.

"It was a bit of a worry, a bit of a shock, to see those numbers come out," Federated Farmers president Katie Milne said.

"There is a fair bit of frustration and disappointment there around finding out, this late in the season, that there is a big number to be run through the system," she told the Herald.

"Because of course everyone is getting ready for grazing for winter, they have got contracts in place, so there could be a lot of effects for a lot of people in that area," she said. In mid-Canterbury, off-farm grazing is a big part of the farming scene.

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Less than 1 per cent of the national cattle herd either have Mycoplasma bovis or are on farms that are under MPI's surveillance.

Once the presence of the disease is established on a farm, the herd has to be culled.
"As hard as it is, and as cruel as it is on those farmers affected, we know that no one has ever eradicated it, but in truth no one has ever tried."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said late last year the phased M. bovis eradication programme was "progressing well".

Milne told the Herald the sector still supports MPI's plan to go for full eradication.
Beef and Lamb NZ chief executive Sam McIvor said MPI's "surge" had Beef and Lamb's backing, and that it was assisting MPI with extra staff and resources.

"This is a time of the year when graziers take on stock, both dairy cows and young stock from dairy farmers," McIvor said in a supplied statement.

"It's also a time when beef farmers are in the market for replacement cattle for their finishing operations," he said.

"Therefore, the aim is to get through the inspection and testing process for as many farms as possible so that farmers can have certainty about their farming options."

MPI's Gwyn said the surge did no not change MPI's confidence in achieving eradication.

One farmer said the news of a lift — which came on the eve of Easter holidays — was worse for farmers because there was no support or advice available during the break.

On the timing, Gwyn said: "We are working at pace to stop this disease from spreading, and we shouldn't delay that because of a long weekend.

"The release signalled to all farmers that there was a surge of activity coming, but it didn't change any individual farmer's circumstances."