The devastating spread of mycoplasma bovis has once again shone the spotlight on New Zealand's main traceability tool, NAIT (National Animal Identification and Tracing).
Since the horse has bolted and Mycoplasma Bovis has spread to disastrous proportions, NAIT itself, the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) and Government have pointed the finger of blame directly at non-compliant farmers.
Independent Whanganui livestock agent David Cotton was one of numerous voices publicly denouncing NAIT as a workable system and, in fact, labelled the NAIT system a disaster two years ago (Wanganui Chronicle Country, May 11, 2016).
"I said how poorly the NAIT system worked in May 2016," Cotton said.
"I referred to all the flowery media articles that said it was working just great with good uptake from farmers -Yeah right!
"As I re-read that article from two years ago I feel disappointed how NAIT, MPI and Government are blaming the lack of farmer uptake in the NAIT System to help the spread of mycoplasma bovis when it was known that the NAIT System was simply not working and that a large number of farmers were non-compliant.
"The NAIT information is not reliable, the system is a disaster. You can make bad laws, but it does not mean that people will obey them.
"I was disappointed to hear about this disease through the media and surprised that as livestock agents we were not warned of the risk of buying cattle out of the South Island as soon as the disease was recognised 18 months ago.
"Of the stock agents and carriers I have spoken to not one had been advised of the risks other than what we have read in the media in the last few months. I have now seen advertising of community meetings which is great. But talk about closing the gate after the cattle have bolted."
Cotton said there was just not the buy-in from farmers required to make it work. Farmers are telling him that the cost versus benefit ratio was not right and that the system was one that couldn't practically work.
He did, however, concede preventing the spread of debilitating diseases such as mycoplasma bovis was enough of an incentive for farmers to comply.
"I understand on a dairy farm you milk 200 cows or 1200 cows and the next day you are one short that it is most likely dead in the paddock or at the neighbour's place. But let's look at a large sheep and beef farm in the back blocks of say Whanganui.
"It is highly unlikely that any station will have all their cattle in the yards on one day, highly unlikely that they will have a clean muster, but highly likely that it's six months since the cattle have been in the yards and highly likely some cattle have lost their tag, highly likely some have been killed rolling down the hill never to be seen again and highly likely that some are in the neighbours.
"Now tell me how likely the NAIT records are up to date and accurate in instances like these? My experience has been to buy cattle in the sale yards only to find the tally purchased did not match the NAIT transfer. When I ring NAIT they ask me to drive up to the client's Waitotara property and re-read the tags. Yeah right, who's going to pay me to drive for three hours up and back plus time to read tags and do the transfer."
Cotton said he understood 94 per cent of cattle through sale yards were compliant, which was a great result and a credit to the stock and station industry forced to administer and police the system.
But approximately 40 per cent of cattle are traded privately or sent out to grazing.
"As an independent livestock agent each time I buy cattle out of the sale yards I must give my competitors the name of my buyer.
"How many business roll up to their competitors and give them their database of clients they are doing business with? NAIT even asked me to email them my database of clients I act for — get real.
"In my personal view NAIT will never work as the majority of farmers don't believe it will work. They tell me it doesn't add value to their business, only cost and time, which down on the farm are normally both in very short supply."
Cotton was still outraged that the Commerce Commission fined PPG Wrightson $2.7 million dollars, one of several companies fined for price fixing NAIT fees in sale yards. Especially given the companies had the administration and policing of the system thrust upon them.
"After they had spent tens of thousands of dollars putting in NAIT readers, training staff, dealing with the slowing up the of sale yard process, having to budget future capital to upgrade hardware as technology changes arrived, they had to buy all their livestock agents a hand-held reader for private sales.
"Most sale yards are owned by stock and station companies and many in partnership with PGG Wrightson and I believe these companies have provided a very efficient service to clients helping them meet their NAIT obligations.
"I felt they took a pragmatic view setting one price across the board as an easy system to administer. As a livestock agent I knew exactly what fee to pass on to my clients. Can you imagine the nightmare of different sale yards and different companies all having a different price structure?
"This was not a get rich quick scheme, it was a service to clients and a fee to help cover the substantial cost of this programme that was forced on them," Cotton said.