Southland continues to have the country's largest count of properties, 16 in total, infected by the bovine disease Mycoplasma bovis. Now central government says work is under way to improve the tracking system that 'let it down' in its efforts to trace the spread of the disease.
The Ministry of Primary Industries expects Cabinet to make a decision about the next steps in the response to the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak by the end of this month. The two main options are either phased eradication or long-term management.
Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor said it was a difficult decision that would be made together with industry.
Meanwhile, he said last week that work would start immediately to improve the country's animal tracking system known as NAIT, saying the system had "let us down" amidst the M bovis outbreak.
"The hunting down of Mycoplasma bovis has been slowed by the poor uptake of NAIT. For the minority of farmers who fully complied with NAIT, the tracing of animals for Mycoplasma bovis has been smooth. This is why it's crucial we fix the system. NAIT is hard to use and farmers have not been told of the benefits of compliance.''
A key way the disease is spread is through cattle movements. Authorities have seen proper record keeping of movements as critical because the disease couldn't be reliably traced by watching symptoms develop in cows.
Officials worked through the 38 recommendations and advised 23 could be implemented promptly.
Some of those 23 changes mean the NAIT number will be assigned to a particular location – not a person; the NAIT interface will be improved to make it easier to enter information and a mobile app will be developed for use in the field; and the performance of accredited agencies will be better managed, particularly those providing information to NAIT on behalf of farmers.
The remaining 15 required regulation or legislation change to implement, he said.
Mr O'Connor said he had asked officials to take a tougher approach to NAIT compliance and MPI would work with OSPRI to do this.
"As an interim measure, MPI's animal welfare officers will carry out NAIT enforcement as part of their regular farm visits, " he said.
"Farmers need to play their part by ensuring they meet their legal NAIT obligations, especially with moving day upon us."
Farmers who were not under controls were allowed to move stock, but they must adhere to their legal NAIT requirements and record animal movements, he said.
"If you are concerned about moving your stock then be prudent, seek advice from your industry groups and MPI. The same goes for sourcing feed.''
Mr O'Connor met with industry leaders last week to discuss helping farmers through the next few weeks. Mr O'Connor said MPI gave $307,000 to Rural Support Trusts to help farmers and there was $7.8 million of funding committed to help those struggling with feed issues.
DairyNZ has also recently committed 10 additional staff to advise farmers on preparing their compensation claims, and Beef and Lamb New Zealand has committed additional funding for the Rural Support Trusts to help drystock farmers through the compensation process, and employed additional resources to work with farmers on M bovis and wider biosecurity management.
"In addition, MPI has committed that farmers whose animals are being culled due to presence of the infection, will receive an initial payment for the value of culled stock within two weeks of a completed claim being lodged," Mr O'Connor said.