More than 43,000 cattle have been culled and $25 million paid in compensation to farmers so far as the Government continues in its bid to make New Zealand the first country in the world to eradicate the Mycoplasma bovis disease.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor today visited a Wairarapa farm to announce a package to help speed up the recovery process for farms cleared of M. bovis.
"I know it's been an extremely tough time for many farmers. Losing herds, pets and years of stock genetics built up over decades is an incredible hit to take for New Zealand's one shot to protect our national herd and economic base," Ardern said in a statement.
"For those families whose farms have been cleared of Mycoplasma bovis, restocking marks an important turning point – it allows them to begin moving forward again."
Ardern said the phased eradication programme was "progressing well".
Ardern and O'Connor visited the Wairarapa beef farm of Bryce and Julie Stevenson, who are restocking after eradicating M. bovis.
"Working closely with our farming industry partners, the Government remains confident eradication is on track and we have a good chance of success," O'Connor said.
The Government announced in May that it would spend $886m in an attempt to eradicate the cattle disease, estimating that more than 150,000 cattle would have to be culled in its world-first attempt.
Mycoplasma bovis is a bacterium that causes udder infections (mastitis), abortion, pneumonia and arthritis in cattle.
It does not infect humans and presents no food-safety risk.
Of New Zealand's 24,000 farms, 74 have been infected so far, with 36 subsequently destocked and cleared of the disease. All have been linked to a single strain of M. bovis.
Biosecurity NZ said 216,029 tests had so far been completed and 43,000 cattle culled.
"It's important to remember that confirmation of newly identified properties does not mean the disease is spreading. It means we are tracing historically infected cattle and milk movements, many of which occurred before the disease had been discovered," O'Connor said in a statement.
The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has to date received 387 claims for compensation worth an estimated $35.5m, with $25.6m paid.
The recovery package announced today and being rolled out by MPI, DairyNZ and Beef+LambNZ, includes:
• A compensation assistance team to work with farmers on their claims.
• Improved compensation form and guide.
• Online milk production losses calculation tool.
• More Rural Support Trust staff.
• Regional recovery managers for Invercargill, Oamaru, Ashburton and Hamilton.
Farmer Ben Walling, whose farm was infected with the disease, told Newstalk ZB's Mike Yardley this morning the Government's response had been "pretty good", given it had not been prepared for such a demanding task.
He said officials involved in the recovery needed to know about farming and he wanted to see more farmers involved in the process.
"If they get the recovery side of MPI sorted, they'll halve the workload for compensation and that'll in turn speed up compensation, which is the big issue at the moment – the slowness in getting paid so you can get back to farming," Walling said.
Federated Farmers dairy chairman Chris Lewis said the process around compensation and on-farm activities had been slow and frustrating at times but MPI staff were learning as they went.
"The operations don't go hand in hand with farmer support, often the MPI team will go onto the farm to make some decisions and three weeks later a team goes in to pick up the pieces for the farmers and help them out," Lewis told Newshub.