Posts Tagged ‘Damien O’Connor’

Biosecurity officials target vehicles and machinery from Japan

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has introduced new measures to reduce the risk of brown marmorated stink bugs arriving in vehicles and machinery from Japan.

The changes will require all used vehicles (cars and trucks) to undergo inspection and cleaning at a ministry-approved facility in Japan before they are shipped out.

Moreover, any used machinery or other types of used vehicles from Japan will require certification proving it has undergone cleaning by an appropriate provider, says Paul Hallett, MPI biosecurity and environment manager.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor meanwhile has been answering questions in Parliament on the issue

Among the questions:

Hon Nathan Guy: How many live stink bugs have been found in ships destined for New Zealand from Japan over the last week?

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: I’ve been unable to be in a position to count them.

Hon Nathan Guy: Is the Minister, therefore, telling the House that he’s had no formal advice from his officials as to how many stink bugs have arrived on vessels from Japan in the last week?

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: No, I do not have a number, but what I can tell that Minister is that, unlike himself, we identified through a rigid, robust system of inspection of the ship—before any vehicles were put off the ship, officials identified—the presence of brown marmorated stink bugs, which are a huge threat to this country. We have upped the level of compliance and scrutiny on those ships, and we’ll stand by that regardless of whether it’s two or 2,000 stink bugs. We cannot afford to let those pests into this country.

In his announcement, Mr Hallett said nearly 95 per cent of used vehicles from Japan already go through approved facilities that are designed to eliminate the risk of biosecurity threats like seeds and hitchhiking organisms such as Asian gypsy moth.

The new requirement will be compulsory for all imports.

“The changes will significantly reduce the chance of transporting dirty vehicles and machinery that could contaminate other cargo.

“The move is the result of an unprecedented spike in the number of stink bugs arriving at the border from Japan in bulk carriers.”

The ministry has already increased the level of inspection of arriving carriers and their cargo, including the use of fogging with insecticide to flush any insects out of confined spaces.

It has directed three bulk carriers to leave New Zealand this month because of excessive contamination.

Mr Hallett says the ministry will work with industry to develop longer-term options for reducing the biosecurity risk.

The aim is to find solutions that avoid the need to turn vessels around at the border. This could include treatment prior to entering New Zealand waters or finding ways of fumigating the vessels here if any detections are made.

A treatment programme will be trialled on one of the affected ships this week. The vessel will have to pass rigorous biosecurity checks for the ministry to allow the release of its cargo.


Drought classification is extended to the Grey and Buller districts

Agriculture and Rural Minister Damien O’Connor has added the Grey and Buller districts on the South Island’s West Coast to the medium-scale drought declared in the lower North Island last month. 

The extension of the drought classification means the local Rural Support Trust and other recovery organisations get a funding boost of up to $50,000 to help their local communities.

O’Connor declared 13 districts across Taranaki, Manawatu-Whanganui and Wellington were in drought conditions just before Christmas after an extremely dry start to the summer. 

“On the back of an extremely wet winter that left many farmers unable to grow pasture or crops for spring, the early and unusual dry start to summer turned West Coast pastures from swamp to concrete,” O’Connor said.

“It was agreed that while farmers needed to plan for the worst, there was hope that the forecast rainstorms could break the drought before central government assistance became necessary. However, the Grey and Buller districts now meet the criteria for a medium-scale event.”

O’Connor, who is also the local MP for West Coast-Tasman, had been closely monitoring the dry-weather conditions in the lead-up to declaring the medium-scale event and today said there’s a watching brief on neighbouring areas including Murchison, which have missed out on rain. 

The Ministry for Primary Industries classifies medium-scale events as those that impact farms and communities at a district or multi-district level.

Central government aid includes tax relief and income assistance. The ministry is reviewing its drought policy framework with a new policy expected to be in place by the middle of this year. 

Grass-roots projects get $7.15m boost from Sustainable Farming Fund

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor has welcomed 28 new projects under the Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF), and the new SFF Tere pilot scheme announced today.

The fund supports community-led projects at the grass-roots level to build productivity and resilience throughout the primary industries.

The 28 projects represent a combined investment of around $7.15 million.

“The SFF has enabled unique collaborations of farmers and growers, scientists and researchers, iwi, local government and many others that are making a real difference for our rural communities and the wider primary industries,” says Mr O’Connor.

“The SFF Tere pilot has been an opportunity to show we can take the SFF even further by enabling the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to increase investment in smaller projects.”

The name “SFF Tere” translates in English to be quick, swift or fast, which describes the nature of projects funded.

O’Connor had discussed the Sustainable Farming Fund with ministry officials and challenged them to develop an initiative that would enable investment in small SFF projects.

SFF Tere is the result and four SFF Tere projects, representing $271,000 in investment, have already been approved. They will get under way in the new calendar year.

Information about the 28 projects can be found HERE.

Biosecurity Minister disappointed by further findings of Mycoplasma bovis

Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor says he’s “deeply disappointed’’ by the detection of cow disease Mycoplasma bovis on farms near Hastings and Winton.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has identified four new properties as positive for the bacterial cattle disease and strongly suspects it is present on one further property.

One of the latest infected properties is in the Hastings district, the other three are within a farming enterprise in Winton.

The suspect property is near Ashburton.

“The fact the disease has been found in the North Island is disappointing to me and, no doubt, will be for farmers too,’’ Mr O’Connor says.

Mr O’Connor says officials are working hard to track the disease.

“We are still unable to identify the source of the disease and that concerns me.”

Mr O’Connor says he will meet with officials to discuss the next steps in dealing with the outbreak.

“I understand this is tough for farmers, people working on these properties and people in these close-knit communities, but everyone is working hard to find solutions.’’

The Hastings and Ashburton properties were identified through MPI’s tracing programme and the Winton property was identified through the industry milk testing programme.

All of the movements were prior to July 21, when the disease was first detected and notified to MPI.

The Hastings and Winton properties were placed under a Restricted Place Notice under the Biosecurity Act. This effectively places them in quarantine lockdown – restricting the movement of animals and other risk goods on and off the farm.

The suspect property is under voluntary movement controls until its status is confirmed.

Mr O’Connor says it is possible further infected properties could be found.

The bacteria can spend some time in an animal before it is found or they show signs of the disease, which makes our job harder, he says.

PGP review may result in greater focus on soil and water issues

The Primary Growth Partnership may continue under the Labour-led Government but with a greater focus on soil and water issues.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor told AgScience:

“I have indicated there will be a review of PGP.  Millions have been invested across different sectors and of course there is good that will have come from it. But identifying that is not so easy.

“So we’ve got to make sure that wherever taxpayers are spending money across the rural and agricultural sectors, they are getting good value for that money because just as farmers expect to use their money wisely, so does government.

“And we’ve got to make sure that we don’t drop the ball.”

O’Connor said there was a need for a greater understanding of the value of soil and all aspects of its protection and development.

Similarly, with water science “there’s a  hell of a lot for us still  to learn”.

Not enough investment had been put into those areas.

On the role of state grants for research and development, O’Connor said the Government hadn’t committed to any approach, other than to boost the Sustainable Farming Fund, “which we think has been a very successful approach – we like small smart initiatives.”

With the PGP, large amounts of money often had been invested for business-as-usual projects

“We are going to balance those,” O’Connor said.

“Firstly, we will have a review and look at the system .

“I know PGP has improved over time in terms of oversight and accountability, but the question still remains what is the best way to spend taxpayers money for the future of agriculture.”

Without a vision and strategic plan “we’re not quite sure if we are spending that money in the right direction”.


MPI’s honey test results prompt call from Labour for further restructuring

The Labour Party is reported to be calling for the Ministry for Primary Industries to be split again because it’s “too big” and failing industries like the lucrative manuka honey business.

Damien O’Connor, Labour’s spokesman for Primary Industries, said the 2012 merger of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of Fisheries and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority was meant to be about efficiency.

But he said the ministry now was “simply too big” to have the expertise required in the highly technical areas of food safety and biosecurity.

His comments (HERE) followed MPI’s deputy director of general regulation and assurance, Bryan Wilson, acknowledging a problem with the testing of manuka honey.

The Government last month released its scientific definition to authenticate New Zealand manuka honey, which is the first step leading to a standard.

This followed claims in a British trade magazine, The Grocer, that consumers were being misled over what they are buying and at vastly inflated prices.

The honey industry earns $242 million in exports a year, about 80 per cent of this from manuka honey.

But some producers say up to 20 per cent of the purest honey – worth about $10 – 20 million – is failing MPI testing.

Radio NZ reported on this issue yesterday (HERE):

Independent industry adviser John Hill said he has had clients whose honey has failed under the proposed standards despite being some of the best in the country.

He said producers had been testing hundreds of samples of the best mānuka honey, worth up to $300 a kilogram, and about 20 percent had failed.

Mr Hill said the significant fail rate had huge implications for mānuka honey producers and he wanted MPI to sort it out as soon as possible.

He said it had already been a bad year for beekeepers, with the weather affecting produce.

Bryan Wilson was intervieweed for the Radio NZ news item.

He said there appeared to be a problem with the laboratory testing methods used, and work was being done to fix it.

“It’s the way in which the testing for DNA is undertaken. There is potentially some interference with some of the chemicals, so we’re working on how that might be fixed and we think we’ve got a solution,” he said.

Mr Wilson said the test was designed to separate mānuka honey from other sorts of honey.

“We are pretty confident in the way we have got that set up. We would expect a level of difference between what our tests show and what the industry’s tests show. That’s why we started this process in the first place.”

Submissions for fresh testing ends on 13 June. Mr Wilson was confident any issues could be fixed at the end of the consultation process.