Keith Woodford says the Government is underestimating the animal and human welfare issues in its MPB plan, along with underestimating the complexity of the compensation claims

By Keith Woodford*

Monday’s decision by New Zealand’s Government to undertake a “phased eradication” of Mycoplasma bovis is a useful compromise from the ‘nuclear’ slaughter option. It allows farmers to negotiate as to when their infected herds will be culled. This is a retreat from what has been occurring to date.

The key statement from Government in their press release is that: "There will be some flexibility for farmers in the timing of culling to offset production losses”. Further elaboration of this statement is needed.

A second key point is that Government has committed to reviewing the situation in the spring. By then, we will have a lot more information which should allow more considered decisions.  Government may then indeed choose to go down the off-ramp.

Most of the identified infected herds are in the South Island. In the case of milking farms, I expect most infected South Island farmers will choose within allowable limits to wait and see what happens. All of these herds are showing no clinical symptoms. In contrast, for graziers with infected dairy-beef stock, they may choose to get rid of the animals as soon as possible.

There are going to be huge challenges for MPI. To date, they have not covered themselves in glory. All members of their response team will have been working hard within imposed limits, but the MPI system has let them down with too many layers of management and an inability to make timely operational decisions for each farm.

The most urgent issue right now relates to all of the NOD (suspect) farms in the South Island that have their cows and their feed in different locations. As just one example of many, there is a Mid Canterbury farmer I know of who is caught in the constipated bureaucracy and as of today still cannot get approval to shift his stock less than two kilometres to another farm he owns (and which he agrees will then also become a NOD farm).

These cows need to be moved and should have been progressively moved over recent weeks as they were dried-off, if they are to have feed to eat. This farm is not one of the infected properties, rather it is just one of the 300 NOD suspect properties.

We don’t know how many farms are in this situation of cows isolated from their winter feed, but almost certainly well over 100. This is not the ‘gypsy day’ situation but something quite different. And it is a big animal and human welfare issue.

The Government appears to be underestimating the complexity of the compensation claims. The challenge is that claims have to be ‘verified’, but loss of income claims are always debatable. Claim settlements require agreement on what would have happened and by definition that is impossible to verify objectively.

An MPI source advises that any claim over $75,000 requires five separate signatures across various ministries from within the Wellington bureaucracy after the technical assessors have reached agreement. Given the future tsunami of claims, from both infected and suspect properties, and the reality that almost no claims have yet to be settled except in partial amounts, there will be a need for a separate and preferably independent Claims Assessment Commission.

The Government estimates that the eradication program will last for ten years, albeit with much of the eradication occurring in the first two years. Accordingly, farmers will still need to work on the assumption that Mycoplasma bovis can rear its head at any time during those ten years, and maybe thereafter.  

The key actions that all farmers need to take are to minimise stock movements on to their farms and to stop the practice of feeding calves with unpasteurised ‘red milk’ from hospital cows.  Taking cattle to saleyards needs to stop, with any movements being directly from farm to farm, and no mixing of stock during transport.

We need a regulation making it unlawful to feed calves with ‘hospital cow’ milk unless it is pasteurised.

Some farmers will not be pleased by such rules and required changes in farming practice. However, it is taxpayers who are picking up much of the bill. There are no obvious direct benefits to taxpayers from Mycoplasma bovis eradication, so it is reasonable for taxpayers to expect farmers to now do everything in their power to assist in controlling this disease. 


*Keith Woodford was Professor of Farm Management and Agribusiness at Lincoln University for 15 years through to 2015. He is now Principal Consultant at AgriFood Systems Ltd.   His articles are archived at http://keithwoodford.wordpress.com. You can contact him directly here.

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34 Comments

A Government moratorium on mortgagee sales of farms and business affected by MP / bovis would help relieve alot of pressure on Farming families who are looking at losing there home ,farm,stock and business due to MPB and no fault of there own. That, I understand is what Govt did in the 1930 depression so the population could expect there to be food in the Grocery Shops. If a moratorium worked once it will probably work again. It's simple , we don't have to reinvent the wheel.

If a Moratorium on Mortgage sales accured, Farmers could eliminate their biggest fear; clear their head and farm through to the other side. If Govt allows Farm Owners and sharemilkers and contractors with 20 -40 years of technical skills and experience to be wiped out ; if you "break their heart" that would be irreplacable for the next 40 years. Imagine how expensive in Dollar and Social Terms that would be ???

Let's assume there are 2.5 million tax payers. What the eradication means is $348 per tax payer. Let's not forget all the free gubmint irrigation projects. That's at least a couple months heating money. I guess I'll just be cold this winter, because I'm a not a boomer and I don't get free heating.

How about taxing these farmers bit more? Essentially they're getting free insurance without paying for it. Or could we at least get some cheap butter out of them!

With bailouts like this it's no wonder farmers don't take responsibility for cock ups. I know this was the previous governments doing, but what have Labour been doing for the last 8 months?

https://croakingcassandra.com/2018/05/29/why-are-we-gifting-so-much-to-f...

Curious as to why so much public money is given to the cockies when they pay so little tax. They have gamed the system for ever typically growing the size of their farms by buying Blueys block next door ( when Bluey retires and his only clever son has left) utilizing NZs crazy tax laws on interest deductions. The irrigation schemes mentioned above are another example of massive free capital gains provided by the poor ol tax payer.

Farmers are now typically massively asset rich all thanks to the NZ tax payer. Why should we be helping them out again?

you cannot tar us with the same brush. Lots of family farms are struggling with succession planning due to ridiculous land values, out of touch with earnings.

It's like blaming the UK for the Opium trade with China and not Jardine-Mateson and the French Sassoon family, (the Rothschilds of the east) who built their fortunes on it and they still got it.

https://www.ft.com/content/1a7c4e5c-55ad-11e2-bbd1-00144feab49a

If succession planning is important why have farmers voted against their own interests by tolerating and encouraging a party that has actively fostered this pushing up of land values, while lambasting as socialist and communist the only crowd that has shown any willingness to confront the causes?

At the same time it's been so common to see right-leaning comments of "What does it matter who owns the land, anyway? It can't be packed up and taken overseas and we can always legislate over it."

It seems counterproductive to me. Seems like many in the farming communities have been voting against their own - or especially their descendants' - interests up to this point.

These high land values aren't for Kiwi buyers, as those who are opposed to the foreign buyer ban are so quick to point out.

Quite a few of us support an asset tax, but not all. The low interest rates have destroyed opportunity and driven a lot to focus on tax free asset gains. Some of those corporates like Landcorp must me bleeding.

AndrewJ,

I know little about M Bovis,but you really don't think that Jardine and Matheson(my countrymen) operated without the full support and where necessary,the military backing of the UK government do you? If you do,then you need to do some reading.

I was thinking of the average man, the taxpayer, the mug on the other end of the rifle.

Irrigation funding is done as a loan - it has to be repaid. https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/agribusiness/92742733/governmen...

Current government is giving Auckland $114m for the America's Cup. It's not a loan but a handout.
https://www.nzherald.co.nz/sport/news/article.cfm?c_id=4&objectid=12053520

edit - reply for smalltown

True, no other country has succeeded in eradication. But it's also true that no other country has an agriculture lobby - particularly dairying - like ours. And 'eradication' is not really the issue here. The central issue is 'compensation'.

As Keith Woodford writes, 'There are no obvious direct benefits to taxpayers from Mycoplasma bovis eradication'. But neither benefit to taxpayers nor the massive appropriation of taxpayer money are of concern in this bail-out. The most influential lobby in Wellington knows full well that a supposed strategy for 'eradication' shifts far more money towards farmers than any strategy for 'containment' . But the banks also have their oar in this conversation - as production losses within this heavily indebted sector risk their investments. So they too like the look of 'eradication'. In effect, everyone in this sector is compensated.

Finally may I share the following Q&A's from 'New Zealand Farmer', 28th May:.

Q: What have farmers done wrong?

A: Many have not complied with a system introduced in 2012 called National Animal Identification Tracing (Nait). When cattle or deer are born, they are meant to be tagged and registered and their movements around the country have to be recorded. That is what has made it so tough for MPI to track stock. But MPI has also been guilty of being too soft on non-compliant farmers. In the six years since Nait was introduced, only one infringement fine of $150 has been handed out. The maximum fine is $10,000.

Q: Has MPI been fair over compensation claims?

A: Untangling genuine claims from dishonest ones has tested MPI. One farmer included the cost of his family holiday to Australia's Gold Coast in his claim

I learned on here thats it's the corporates who are mostly at fault regards animal id. Interesting to see if it's not large scale corporate types who are also behind both the outbreak and the compensation, lets keep our eyes open.

That article says as much about the seller of the calves as anything else.

I'm with you working man. But then I don't understand why people were compensated in the CHCH redone. It was an insurance issue not mine as a taxpayer, so they loose some money, I've lost heaps on property and didn't get a handout.
Maybe it has something to do with accepted existing rights being exstingished by government.

NAIT and M.Bovis are not necessarily connected.

Interest threads have noted the two massive logical glitches in the NAIT schema as:

  1. The impossibility of figuring out which beast lost which tag when said beast comes off the truck, out of the gully, or in from the grazing lot, with no tag.
  2. Attaching a NAIT tag and subsequently not scanning that into the system as such - the classic wetware failure. Happens at farms, saleyards, transports - all over the show, so hard to apportion blame to any one group.

And then there's the sad fact that M.Bovis, being as how it's a Bacterium, will happily transmit far and wide via milk, soil, or the meter reader's boot. NAIT, AFAIK, doesn't help at all here.

Finally, and again sadly, there yet again is a display of ignorance about, and a lack of compassion for, actual farming practice, and the farmers who conduct it. KW referred to this effect on other fora, but it is dispiriting to find it here as well. The effect of this cull is going to impact entire communities, entire industries (think: transport and ag contracting for starters), banks who are exposed to enterprises who will have their production units terminated, intermediaries like stock agents, and will certainly set back if not render useless a few decades worth of bovine genetic improvements.

This is not an opportunity to spout schadenfreude or engage in virtue-signalling. Especially from urbanites whose Councils cheerfully dump sewage overflows into the nearest waterway during rainfall events and possess ongoing consents to keep doing more of it.

Enough already.

To add some balance - I am also aware of MPI being offered data of stock sales for quicker traceability of young stock and being told - 'we aren't interested in that only adult cattle'. One thing this has brought to light is that there have been 'faults' on boths sides of this - farmers and MPI. Yes there are some 'bad apple' farmers who will try to game a system but they are the minority, and the reality is that MPI did not have the resources/systems to deal with a situation such as this. MPI staff have been working some incredibly long hours and affected farming family have been stressed to the max by it.

The media focus has been on NAIT where as the reality is that this disease has been in NZ for a number of years and NAIT is a side issue given that fact. MPI has also been offered assistance from industry with staffing but refused it in the early stages. They now accept that they cannot do it without industry support, especially in regards to knowledge of farming systems and how some of MPIs directives had the potential to result is serious animal welfare issues.

Almost all the farming families involved in this are 'collateral damage' from one biosecurity incursion which a single farmer may or may not have shared responsibility for with MPI. No different to the PSA biosecurity issue for the kiwifruit industry. Yet I don't remember negativity towards the kiwifruit industry at that time, that we are seeing on this site towards farming. Both situations occurred for the same reason - biosecurity failure. Are we going to see the same thing with this compensation scheme that we did with the kiwifruit - the first ones well compensated the later ones less so. Unlike other countries you cannot get insurance in NZ for non pedigree stock.

Totally with you CO. MPI needed an army of ex farmers at the ready when this thing first appeared. Nait is a side issue. The lack of tracing on some stock is nothing compared to the lack of dealing with what was in front of their noses. We must have a corp of ex and/or current farmers ready to go at the drop of a hat.

Lots of countries have farming lobby groups - USA, Canada, UK, France etc.

Traceability? The EU demanded meat product from NZ should be traceable, sort of from carton to farm concept. Recall this started in earnest mid 1990’s. Supermarkets such as Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsbury, had their own similar procedures in place, and came to NZ to audit the processing against them. While this outbreak here might not actually affect meat safety itself, it does though very worryingly expose that whatever tracing is being done is unreliable , inadequate in some areas at the least. What then are the trade implications of that.

I wonder how stringent that traceability is now in supermarkets when in UK they state on meat packaging Product of Australia, New Zealand or Chile In other words consumers don't know where it came from.

Processor traceability should not be impacted by m bovis. Nait tags are but only one that dairy farmers use.

Yes, Casual Observer, of course they do. My point is that New Zealand has one lobby group, in farming interests (particularly dairying), with political influence far above any other private sector or public interest whatsoever. It has bred, and continues to breed, a culture of privilege. I recognise the importance of this sector. I see no ethical justification for wholesale compensation for private business losses.

To take a current example, if the public purse is to insure farmers against production/business losses, why not compensate trucking businesses for their losses since the trailer linkage fiasco? Why not fully compensate every leaky building owner? Both have trusted their respective regulators.

It is fine line. If there is a disease outbreak we want farmers to speak up and get the problem sorted. Air accident investigations are a good example of people speaking up without fear which has improved air travel for everyone.
Last thing we want is a farmer keeping mum about a foot and mouth outbreak and try to fix the problem on the sly.

Biosecurity Act allows for compensation:
The Act (section 162A) provides that in certain circumstances a person or business is entitled to compensation where MPI has exercised powers, and a verifiable loss has resulted. For example:
You have had property damaged or destroyed.
Restrictions have been imposed on the movement or disposal of your goods, which have caused you loss. The restrictions might be through a Restricted Place Notice, a Notice of Direction, or a Controlled Area Notice.

https://www.mpi.govt.nz/law-and-policy/legal-overviews/biosecurity/biose...

So next time a drought and a farmer needs to sell capital stock , compensation
Hey farming just got a lot easier

So far all the cases are linked to VanLeuwen's and the idea that it was here before still lacks any evidence, and as such it seems easy enough to trace, and cull. Meanwhile the Vanleuwens need to be punished severely for the damage they have caused and to serve as an example that being a richlister doesn't put you above the law.

Careful there skudiv - just because it was van Leewuen's vet who first reported it, it doesn't mean it started there. "MPI has said it believed the Zeestraten’s farm in Southland was the first New Zealand farm which had the disease – as early as December, 2015." https://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/checkpoint/audio/201864655...

Aard van Leewuen has denied it originated there. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=119...

They can time date the bacteria. If it was brought in via legal channels then it is a biosecurity failing.

it also looked like someone imported drugs, which makes the case interesting, goes back to 2011. Someone has some explaining to do.

Treatment drugs for M. Bovis?

good question

It is very unfortunate you brand these people as such. Horrible comments Skudiv.

In relation to some comments above, I confirm that the evidence points very clearly to the Southland infections pre-dating the South Canterbury infections.
The rumour that it came in via drugs to treat M Bovis is actually a circular argument and although I too have heard that rumour it is ridiculous.
There were originally 7 possible avenues for entry of Mycoplasma bovis that were identified by MPI. Essentially, that is now down to two remaining possibilities. I have some confidence we are going to find that no farmer caused the arrival through any illegal or negligent action. I expect to have more to say on this soon
KeithW