As an industry we need to look at strengthening our biosecurity at the farmgate says M. bovis Regional Stakeholder Manager and Farmer Support Adviser Mark Woods.
Arguably one of the pinnacles in the farming calendar, certainly for our younger rural community members, is the annual Young Farmer of the Year competition. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of being a module judge in the Young Farmer of the Year Grand Final. Having the opportunity as a slightly grey and long past member to craft a grand final module utilising my experience as a stock agent, farmer, and agribusiness adviser, while incorporating my newfound passion for biosecurity was an exciting proposition.
Purchasing livestock is a fundamental part of doing business at some point for most New Zealand pastoral farms so the module was designed to incorporate purchasing livestock into this task. Unfortunately, in the scenario designed, each of the seven grand final contestants would have purchased diseased animals onto their farms. This shows we have some work to do as an industry, when you consider that these Young Farmer finalists were the cream of this generation of New Zealand’s emerging farming talent, and are being taught and mentored by that very industry.
In the scenario, the contestants were looking to buy some Friesian bull calves, which is a market in which tens of thousands of animals move around the country each year and they were given two tools to use to protect the biosecurity of their farm business:
Six lines of animals were quoted and with some good questioning of the agent and scrutiny of the NAIT records it would have been possible to purchase two safe lines. Most of the contestants ruled out those lines where the story didn’t line up straight away. The contestants which did manage to rule out the “bad” lines then had to ask more questions to work out the disease risk of the remaining four. Unfortunately, none managed to avoid purchasing animals that would have put their farms at risk, (which highlighted the importance of the NAIT system in a disease response).
Each year in New Zealand hundreds of thousands of animals move around the countryside and the buying and selling of livestock is an important part of the rural economy. One would assume that the discovery of Mycoplasma bovis in 2017 may have had a marked effect on purchasing throughout the industry yet this competition experience would suggest otherwise. Farming has always had an element of risk but endangering the stability of our businesses when purchasing isn’t recommended. Not allowing disease (BVD, theileria. Tb etc.) and pest plants to arrive in the first place is the way to combat their affect. Two of the best tools in on-farm biosecurity are the mind and the mouth.
If this experience was an indicator of how the industry continues to purchase animals, and how we train our future farmers, then our on-farm biosecurity standards sadly need to change.
There is no biosecurity silver bullet, but there are some simple measures that can enable purchasers to make informed risk assessments in buying decisions. Ask questions, get answers, and make informed decisions. And always remember, you are in control of what comes onto your farm.
Your boundary, your border, your business.