The latest report from the independent Technical Advisory Group for the Mycoplasma bovis response shows New Zealand is on track to eradicate the disease, the Ministry for Primary Industries says.
"The TAG report acknowledges the improvements to our work, which aim to lessen the impact on affected farmers, their whānau, workers and rural communities," M. bovis programme director Stuart Anderson said.
"I know that farmers who have been impacted have found the process challenging. Their contribution has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated and four years on since the disease was first detected, immense progress has been made towards eradication."
Currently there were only three active confirmed infected farms, compared to 34 farms two years ago, Anderson said.
The Technical Advisory Group made 14 recommendations for the Programme, all of which were accepted.
These included advice regarding monitoring of beef herds and non-milking dairy cows and what was required to move from delimiting to the provisional freedom of infection phase over the next year.
Listen to Jamie Mackay interview M. bovis programme director Stuart Anderson on The Country below:
The group found that improvements to the Programme meant it was in a good position to deal with any further infected farms identified, which was likely, given some farms' previously poor recording of cattle movements and the likelihood that unidentified small pockets of infection may remain to be found.
Anderson said the group found the recent Canterbury cluster could most likely be explained by unrecorded animal movements, and they recommended the likelihood that the Five Star Feedlot could be a possible source of infection be examined closely.
"Since the TAG first considered information in December, we have looked into this property closely, tested animals and traced movements."
In the Programme's view there were more likely sources from within the cluster of infected farms itself, such as animal movements, shared grazing, insecure boundaries between neighbouring properties and sharing of dairy platforms, Anderson said.
"However, out of an abundance of caution, and in co-ordination with the feedlot's owners, ANZCO, we've placed a buffer area around the feedlot that will remain free of cattle until it is cleared of M. bovis. This is on top of the already strict biosecurity measures that are in place and being adhered to."
Over the coming months, the Programme will work closely with ANZCO on depopulation of the feedlot. The exact timing of this had not been determined and needed to be planned well in advance.
"The feedlot is of significant economic importance to the local community and careful consideration is required to minimise the impact of the depopulation exercise on all those connected to it," Anderson said.
"This includes not only the feedlot's staff and contractors, but also the farmers nationwide who supply it with livestock and feed grains."
Farmers could take a lot of credit for the progress of the eradication programme, chief executive of B+LNZ, Sam McIvor said.
"We are on track to eradication, however there's still a lot of hard work ahead of us. We're urging every farmer to record all animal movements and keep their NAIT records up to date."
Incomplete NAIT records made tracing infected cattle a difficult and expensive job, which ultimately cost all farmers and meant some endured movement controls on their farms that otherwise wouldn't be required, McIvor said.
DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle said eradicating M. bovis had been a key goal for New Zealand and it was pleasing to see the commitment by farmers.
"Managing M. bovis has been a significant challenge for our farmers and presented an upheaval for many who made sacrifices for the greater good."
"Now, continuing with good practices is crucial and respects those sacrifices that many have made. So NAIT, biosecurity and farm management practices remain as important as ever.
Mackle advised farmers to "keep up the good work," by recording all cattle movements, ensuring good biosecurity practices were in place and preventing any mixing of stock.
Read the full report from the Technical Advisory Report Group here.