Northland is tracking well for overcoming the highly infectious cattle disease, Mycoplasma bovis.
There are currently six "active confirmed" farms which are confirmed with M. bovis and 45 properties under movement control while undergoing testing.
Tomorrow, May 29, marks the two-year anniversary of the start of the programme to try to eradicate the disease.
The disease was first introduced in the South Island and made its way north through cattle movements, until Northland became one of the nation's hotspots.
The Northland regional manager for the Ministry for Primary Industries' M. bovis Eradication Programme, Jon Mathers, says setting up a Northland office in late December has made a difference for the staff in charge of implementing the eradication programme.
"I can't say we've flattened the curve yet, but we are definitely ahead of where we thought we would be at this stage,'' he said.
"We've got great teams out working with farmers for the best possible outcome, and they work hard to help the farmers be able to carry on with business.
"No one does this on purpose and we want farmers to know that while it may seem like the world is ending with the initial shock of diagnosis, our programme works well and you will not be left worse off."
Mathers said the Covid-19 virus restrictions had brought home to everyone the effectiveness of an isolation programme.
"We're trying to do the same thing with M. bovis, and the results in the South Island show that the programme is working. It is very difficult to find new infections there now.
"Northland got the infection later so we're at a different stage, but we are doing extremely well.
"Eradication is still our goal. If we are successful, we will be the only country in the world to do so."
Unlike Covid-19, which is a virus, the Mycoplasma bovis bacteria is the smallest living cell and is anaerobic in nature. It does not contain any cell wall and is therefore resistant to penicillin and other antibiotics.
The disease caused by M. bovis is incurable and is shed through infected body fluids – mucus, milk and semen. In New Zealand it typically spreads to other cattle in the herd through close contact for a prolonged period of time. Calves can also be fed infected milk.
The disease can have a devastating effect on farm production and animal welfare and the only option for eradication is to cull infected animals.
There are no regulatory restrictions for meat and dairy products as it is not a food safety risk and does not infect humans. However, an animal showing clinical signs might not be accepted for slaughter as our laws mean any animals that are very sick, severely injured or have medications in their bodies are not processed for human consumption.
Mathers said stock movements are the highest risk for spreading the disease and MPI team members have been planning for months for the traditional Moving Day which is about to take place on June 1.
This is when farmers traditionally move around to new farm positions.
"It is possible for herds to move to new farms even if they under movement control. We just have to have that conversation and know where they are going to,'' he said.
The National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) tag system is one of the key tools being used to trace infected animals.
"We have found some Northland farmers have had to improve their record keeping. Some farmers had not been keeping up with their requirements and this makes tracking and tracing so much more difficult."
Mathers said information meetings are currently being held for Northland affected farmers and Northland vets.
Limited by the Covid-19 restrictions, the meetings are by invitation only and are being held to share information to help with management of M. bovis eradication strategies.
Covid-19 had added to challenges but, as essential work, the M. bovis programme continued.
"We had to stop for a regroup to figure out how we could operate safely. Instead of sitting around the kitchen table, we would hold conversations over the ute bonnet," Mathers said.
"If you put your foot on the mudguard as well that makes the distance about two metres, so that's how we've been operating. We did have to make concessions for farmers who were older or had health issues."
Mathers said Northland's infections had included a higher number of beef farms, which are treated differently as they have a lower risk of contributing to the spread of the disease.
"If the cattle are being farmed for slaughter, in many cases the farmer can carry on as usual as long as the risk is contained. This means they can carry on farming until they can get the meat prices they want.''
One area of concern identified is the large number of lifestyle block owners that may be running a few beef cattle.
"It doesn't matter how small the holding. Details of all cattle must always be entered into the Nait system.
"If you don't own a wand to be able to read the electronic ear tags, it is possible to borrow one from Ospri offices.
"However, they are a good investment and make record keeping much easier."
Mathers also recommended being stringent about the origins of cattle being bought.
"More farmers are insisting on a blood test for M. bovis before purchase," he said.
Some farmers who had been hit multiple times with M. bovis were particularly keen to adopt this measure.
"There are a lot of farmers who are doing everything right. If they are affected, having good records helps them move through the system much more quickly."