Hawke's Bay farmers can look to the TBfree programme as an example of how to manage the most recent threat to their businesses and livelihoods.
Those paying close attention to the spread of mycoplasma bovis might do well to observe how New Zealand has dealt with bovine TB, the biological cousin of the disease that's currently hogging the headlines.
Many modern farmers can't remember how bad TB was. At its peak in the mid-1990s, TB infected about 1700 herds and presented a real threat to New Zealand's export earnings and global reputation.
Then the TBfree programme was launched with the aim of eradicating the disease. We've proved it is possible and infected herds are down below 50.
The programme has made massive gains over the past two decades, and aims to prove freedom from TB in livestock by 2026, in possums by 2040, and prove biological eradication by 2055.
Those goals will be achieved through ongoing possum control – because possums are the main vector of disease between wildlife and livestock.
Possum control, through ground and aerial poisoning and trapping programmes, is essential to the TBfree programme work. There is still a lot of pest control to undertake in the region to remove TB from wildlife; about half our region is still classed as a TB vector risk area (VRA), and it includes a cattle and deer movement control area straddling the Napier-Taupo road where the TB risk is high.
Heavily reducing possum numbers in vector risk areas breaks the infection cycle to other possums and other species, such as wild pigs and deer, but also domestic cattle and deer.
Most of that possum control work is done on the ground (90 per cent nationally) with aerial operations (10 per cent) in areas of rugged terrain such as the steep native forests of the Central Plateau.
An aerial operation planned for the Central Kaweka Range this year has been postponed indefinitely, in favour of completing more urgent control operations in other regions.
While farmers fund 60 per cent of the programme with the levies they pay, and the Government pays 40 per cent, both communities and their local environments benefit from the TBfree programme's work.
Apart from protecting human and animal health, the natural environment benefits from fewer possums, and native flora and fauna flourish.
Rural communities also see social, financial and economic options improve, with TB being removed as a risk to their farming operations. The stigma of having an infected herd can be distressing for farming families and result in significant on-farm management changes while managing the disease.
This is a hard time for farmers with a TB infected herd and often does not come about through poor management, rather animals having contact with local TB-carrying possums.
Regional TB committees are the backbone of the TBfree programme and their members – representing Federated Farmers, regional council, Department of Conservation, New Zealand Veterinarian Association and Young Farmers – voluntarily give up their time for the wider benefit of local landowners.
The last point – tracing stock movements – is particularly important in the light of the current Mycoplasma bovis outbreak.
Where farmers have used NAIT properly to register their properties, tag animals, and correctly record movements, the response to the disease incursion has been quick and effective because the system can provide the required trace-back reports and information for effective tracing of animals and related decision-making.
* If you are interested in finding out more or joining the TBfree committee, visit ospri.co.nz or call the OSPRI freephone, 0800 482 463.
* Nick Dawson is TB committee chairman and milks about 400 cows on 220 hectares at Patoka.