The Mycoplasma bovis eradication programme has been through significant reviews and, with what has been learnt along the way, substantial improvements have been made, programme director Stuart Anderson says.
The aim was to lessen the impact on affected farmers "as much as we can, while we work to eradicate this disease".
A study by University of Otago researchers examined the psychosocial impact of M. bovis on rural communities in the South.
Anderson said the Ministry for Primary Industries had not yet been provided with a copy of the full report from the study, nor had the chance to review it.
It looked forward to being able to include it in its "lessons learnt process", along with other reviews undertaken.
"We know that the M. bovis eradication effort has been challenging for the farmers involved, and even when the process goes as intended and by the book, it is tough for those affected by movement restrictions and directions to cull their animals.
"We and our partners, Dairy NZ and Beef and Lamb NZ, are continuing to work hard to support the wellbeing and recovery of those impacted by M. bovis, including getting through the process and compensation claims paid as quickly as possible," he said.
The eradication of the disease had been one of the most significant biosecurity challenges faced in New Zealand.
Allowing it to spread would have resulted in an estimated $1.3 billion in lost productivity in the country's "vital" cattle sectors in the first 10 years alone.
"It would have left farmers trying to manage the disease at significant cost and with major changes to the way we farm cattle in New Zealand required to manage the risk.
"This is why Government and industry are investing $870 million over 10 years to achieve eradication," he said.
Eradication of Mycoplasma bovis had never been attempted before and building the programme from scratch had not been without substantial challenges.
The effect on farmers, their families and workers could not be underestimated - "it's been tough, particularly so in the early years".
A review being carried out now sought to assess what could be learnt from what was New Zealand's largest biosecurity response to date, Anderson said.
Three years on from the joint decision by the Government and the farming industry to attempt to eradicate the disease from New Zealand, the response was "well on track".
Of the 267 properties confirmed with Mycoplasma bovis, as at June 17, 2021, there were only six active confirmed (currently infected) properties, many of which would be cleaned and cleared, on their way to back to farming as usual over the coming weeks.
"While eradicating M. bovis from New Zealand has been a massive challenge, we are tracking well to success and we are confident that working in partnership with industry and farmers on the ground, will see New Zealand farmers able to farm free from this disease in the future."
The programme was run with a philosophy of continuous improvement and learning.
Over the past two years (particularly since July 2019) the programme had:
• Moved to greater regional-based decision-making, which allows for faster action, based on good local knowledge.
•Developed and implemented a tailored data management system designed to allow effective management and streamlining of processes involved in a disease eradication programme.
• Established local advisory committees of key stakeholder representatives in areas of significant activity.
• Continued to develop the range of farmer support services, unique to this disease eradication programme.
• Ensured programme staff had the specialist skills, experience and industry knowledge for the job ahead, including regional and epidemiological vets and psychosocial specialist farmer support.
• Reviewed and refined its casing, tracing and testing processes, along with improving its risk analysis tools to ensure it was as effective as it could be in finding and locking down infection.
• Developed a national screening programme to actively look for the remaining pockets of infection, while providing confidence the disease was not widespread in the national herd.
• Reduced the waiting time for test results to an average 14 days or less.
• Refined and improved processes, which had significantly reduced the time farms spent under cattle movement restrictions; for example, in May 2020 farmers spent an average of 73 days under restrictions, compared with 40 days in May 2021.
• Increased awareness of the importance of good national animal identification and tracing (Nait) records in being able to track infected animals fast and stop the spread.
• Appointed farm systems managers, who worked alongside farmers under movement restrictions, through the process of testing, to recovery and compensation.
• Continued to fund and support DairyNZ & Beef & Lamb NZ compensation assistance team (DBCAT), established in late 2018, that actively promoted the free assistance for compensation claim for all affected farmers.