Ministerial statement is made on steps taken to control spread of Mycoplasma bovis

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor today made a ministerial statement on the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak in Parliament, to update the House on significant steps taken in recent days to control the spread of the cattle disease.

He said the disease, first discovered in July last year, has an impact on the health of cattle, including high mortality among calves, mastitis, high rates of abortions, and reduced milk production.

“It is a drag on the incomes of farming households, rural communities, and the national economy. I’ve been working hard with officials, industry leaders, and farmers on the ground to take actions to limit the outbreaks impact.”

As reported by AgScience (here, here and here), the Ministry for Primary industries is to  cull 22,332 cattle on all properties infected with the disease – the single biggest cull of cattle in New Zealand’s history.

This follows the introduction of a checkpoint at the top of the South Island for trucks carrying cattle north, which will prevent animals moving from infected and restricted properties.

Mr O’Connor explained the decision to cull cattle now had been taken because milk testing showed Mycoplasma bovis is not endemic in the national herd.

“All our finds to date stem from two farming hubs.

“I note that the industry has backed the Government’s decision and decisive actions in recent days, saying that these steps will allow farmers to plan for the future. These latest actions will be paid for by $85 million that Cabinet and industry groups dedicated to the response earlier this month.”

Tracing the disease had been a massive undertaking, because of the the poor use and application of the national animal identification and tracing system (NAIT). A review of the tracing system found just 57 percent of those farmers recording their animal movements do so within the 48-hour statutory time frame and it’s estimated that only 30 percent of farm-to-farm animal movements are recorded.

“Unrecorded stock movements are a significant reason for the spread of Mycoplasma bovis and have slowed our tracking of the disease. That is simply not good enough. We will work with farmers to fix NAIT’s problems and to protect our economy from future biosecurity threats.”

Officials continue to investigate how the disease entered New Zealand.

Mr O’Connor said eradication is still the Government’s focus, but it will come with a price tag and a lot of hard work and cooperation between everyone involved.

Former Biosecurity Minister Nathan Guy, responding to the ministerial statement, noted Cabinet had still to decide if full eradication will take place and if it is economically viable.

“That is a “get out of jail” card for the coalition Government,” Mr Guy said.

“Yes, they have made a commitment yesterday to cull 22 herds, but we want to see this continue. I guess they’re waiting to see some further evidence that may pop up when animals are indeed under stress.”

He challenged the coalition Government to be fair with its compensation and make it fast.


Biosecurity Minister coy about costs of dealing with Mycoplasma bovis

Budget confidentiality was the reason given by Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor for being coy about the costs of dealing with Mycoplasma bovis cattle disease.

National’s Nathan Guy – Mr O’Connor’s predecessor as Minister of Biosecurity –
recalled him telling Parliament on 14 February that industry hadn’t been approached for financial assistance to deal with the disease. Was he now aware (Mr Guy asked) that industry has been formally approached to fund about $11 million in operation costs?

Mr O’Connor said he was aware of discussions that have taken place and that there are figures on the table.

“They are subject to a Cabinet process, and I’m not in a position to comment on them.”

With just 30 days to go until an eradication decision is reached by the Minister, Mr Guy then asked, what advice had he received on the likely costs of full eradication?

Mr O’Connor said he had seen a number of costs bandied around.

“None have been confirmed, and until we have accurate information on the likelihood, the risks, and the extent of the disease and its possible eradication, I’m not in a position to comment on them. They will be before a Cabinet process,s and we’ll be sharing those decisions with industry so that they buy into what we will be doing.”

Mr Guy then referred to information from the annual review of the Ministry for Primary Industries at a Primary Production Committee and asked what is the Minister’s delegated financial authority in respect of biosecurity?

There’s a vote for primary industries, and within that there are appropriations across a large number of areas and responsibilities, the Minister explained in reply.

These will not change.

“We are having business units, as announced before Christmas. They’ll be set up, they’ll be focused, to achieeve a lot better outcome than had been achieved by the previous Government in the areas of biosecurity and food safety, where that member oversaw a system that you could drive a boat through—a boat full of cars full of marmorated stink bugs.

“We’re going to change that. We have turned them around and we will turn them around.”

Biosecurity Minister is further questioned about stink bugs from Japan


Damien O’Connor … committed to keeping  out the brown marmorated stink bug.

Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor was questioned in Parliament this week about assurances he had given  last week about stink bugs. He had said no vehicles were unloaded off ships carrying brown marmorated stink bugs from Japan recently.

But National’s Nathan Guy challenged him, saying around half the vehicles were unloaded from the Courageous Ace before loading was halted. Those cars, trucks, and buses sat on the wharf for several days before being reloaded back on to the vessel.

In reply, Mr O’Connor said he had been informed none had been unloaded.

“I will follow up on that.

“The important thing to know here — regardless of the actions that took place —is that we are absolutely committed to keeping out the brown marmorated stink bug, something that that member failed to do because he failed to resource the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and their biosecurity responsibilities properly.”

Mr Guy wasn’t finished and called for the Minister to explain how he could say the biosecurity net is working well when, in November last year, “15 live stink bugs — nine of them female — went on a 1,000-kilometre road trip to Christchurch having already passed MPI’s inspection in Auckland?”

Mr O’Connor conceded this had happened but said the biosecurity system taken over by the Labour-New Zealand First Government “had huge holes in it”.

As those holes have been discovered “we have moved immediately to shut them down”.

Very few of the 1,200 import health standards that the previous Minister was responsible for had been reviewed and upgraded.

“That’s why we are having to move through every part of the biosecurity system to give security to those New Zealand producers in the country—because we desperately need them.”

Next, Mr Guy noted the Minister had said “We cannot afford to let … in [stink bugs] and we will shut down the pathways [whenever] we find them.” He asked how this could be reconciled with large construction equipment being left on the wharf for days prior to it being eventually fumigated.

Mr O’Connor replied:

“Once again, I can’t explain the protocols and systems left to us by the previous Government. But I can tell you that we’re working through every one of those, and every member of the biosecurity system in this country knows that they’ve got a new Government with a new focus on biosecurity; they don’t have the same lazy old lax one that they had in the past.”

Finally, Mr Guy asked if the Minister has requested new urgent funding for extra resources in Japan after stating that his ministry does not have enough people offshore to inspect every vehicle; if not, why not?

Mr O’Connor replied “we don’t have enough people to inspect every single car being loaded on to a ship, but I can tell you that the protocols around that will be upgraded and offer us security that was never there under the hundreds of thousands of cars that that member let into this country.”

Future farming fund investment will optimise primary sector, farm leaders say

Federated Farmers has welcomed the Government’s announcement that it will lift investment in the Sustainable Farming Fund from $7 million to $20 million.

Science spokesman Guy Wigley said working with the sector was a much more effective and useful approach than the tax and punish policies of some other parties.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy announced a cross-sector panel will oversee what will be renamed The Future Farming Fund, driving advances in farming technology and practices while further reducing farming’s environmental footprint.

Since its launch 17 years ago, the Sustainable Farming Fund and leveraged sector support has helped more than 1000 projects to lift the performance and sustainability of primary producers.

“This kind of research is what keeps us at the forefront of farming technology and ensures we remain among the most efficient producers of food on the planet,” Mr Guy said.

Federated Farmers is a lead organisation in projects such as the smart irrigation study in Canterbury. This is about quantifying the relationship between irrigation over time, the accumulation of soil carbon and changes in soil water holding capacity, with spin-offs for knowledge on groundwater recharge and nutrient leaching.

“The project is typical of environmental gains we can make when we improve our knowledge of technology and natural systems,” Mr Guy said.

Federated Farmers said the payback from the Sustainable Farming Fund for food production, export earnings and the environment from turbo-charging a fund for farming technology and practice will be many times the investment.

Ministers welcome Mt Albert Grammar School AgriFood centre

Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy and Associate Minister for Primary Industries Louise Upston have welcomed the beginning of construction on a new centre to showcase the best of the primary sector in the heart of Auckland.

Mount Albert Grammar School’s farm, established in 1932, will be transformed into a centre of primary sector excellence showing urban Kiwis the best technology, innovation, practices and research in New Zealand and the world.

The AgriFood Experience Centre will highlight the wide range of careers in the primary sector and create new connections in our biggest city, Mr Guy says.

Ms Upston says this will help raise awareness of the wide range of different and exciting careers in the primary sector “and encourage students to consider a career in this crucial industry”.

New environmental focus is set for irrigation funding

A change to the constitution of Crown Irrigation Investments Limited (CIIL) will allow it to fund water storage projects with direct environmental and economic benefits, rather than on the basis of purely economic grounds, Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy has announced.

This was an important change to CIIL’s mandate which recognised and reinforced the environmental importance of water storage and distribution projects, Guy said.

The current rules limit CIIL’s purpose to considering the long-term economic benefits from projects that it invests in.

But Guy said it made sense to broaden the scope given the wider benefits of these projects.

“It will now be able to provide concessionary loans to local authorities for projects that directly lead to environmental benefits.”

The change was requested by CIIL and has been formally approved by Cabinet.

Guy said this was good news for potential projects like the Waimea Community Dam near Nelson. The project captures Lee River flows and allows for the controlled release of stored water into the river system during periods of high water demand and/or low natural flows.

“Reliability of water provided by this project would allow pasture to be converted to higher value crops like apples. It would also recharge aquifers, provide water for municipal supply and improve water quality for recreational use.

“Likewise, projects like Central Plains Water is replacing 75-80% of groundwater take consents in the area, helping improve water flows into Lake Ellesmere.

“This change makes it even more disappointing that Labour and the Greens want to scrap all irrigation funding and tax water. This would be disastrous for growers, farmers and the regions. Industries like horticulture and viticulture need a reliable source of water to meet international demand and deal with droughts.”

CIIL is a Crown Entity Company established in 2013. Its purpose is to co-invest in schemes, provide grants for schemes in development, and apply commercial expertise and leadership to irrigation schemes.

With CIIL’s proposed change now approved, it can also provide concessionary loans to local authorities.

Dairy industry body joins GIA biosecurity partnership

The Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand (DCANZ) has become the 15th and largest industry sector to join the Government Industry Agreement (GIA) biosecurity partnership.

DCANZ is the national organisation representing the dairy processor and exporters sector, comprised of 11 members responsible for 99% of the milk processed in New Zealand.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said the dairy industry is a crucial part of New Zealand’s economy, making up over a third of all New Zealand total exports.

“It is vital we work together to prepare and respond to biosecurity threats.

“The discovery of the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis near Waimate is a real reminder of how important biosecurity is to the dairy sector. It’s good practice for all farmers to have an on-farm biosecurity plan.

“As the recent Biosecurity 2025 Direction Statement outlines, biosecurity is a shared responsibility. We need everyone working together sharing their expertise and experience.”

The signing of the agreement was attended by Mr Guy, Trade Minister Todd McClay and representatives of all major dairy companies

Other signatories to the GIA include:

  • Vegetables NZ
  • TomatoesNZ
  • Kiwifruit Vine Health
  • New Zealand Pork
  • Pipfruit New Zealand
  • New Zealand Equine Health Association
  • Onions New Zealand
  • Forestry Owners Association
  • New Zealand Avocado Growers’ Association
  • New Zealand Citrus Growers Incorporated
  • Potatoes New Zealand
  • New Zealand Winegrowers
  • Ministry for Primary Industries