Mycoplasma bovis puts farming under the spotlight

Bill Wright says farmers need to be thinking about traffic and people movement on and off farms.

Bill Wright says farmers need to be thinking about traffic and people movement on and off farms.

OPINION: On a visit to rural Wales, Shirley and I found a plaque commemorating 6000 years of agricultural production within that region.  That's an excellent example of sustainability.

This plaque, coupled with the apparent free-range of sheep, cattle and moor ponies through the National Trust parks we visited, got me thinking about the public perception of agriculture in countries where producing food is enshrined in their culture for many thousands of years.

Huge numbers of walkers visit these parks daily and share tracks with livestock without either one battering an eyelid.

Back home, agriculture seems to be under much closer scrutiny- and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

READ MORE: Mycoplasma bovis not found on nine more farms as disease response continues

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As producers, we can't just be making claims about farming with the highest animal welfare standards while protecting and enhancing the environment. Our public – and markets – want the numbers and the data to prove it.

Challenges such as these were highlighted at the recent Red Meat Industry conference in Dunedin. It was an excellent conference with some thought-provoking speakers.

As an industry, we are facing challenges such as minimising our environmental impact – particularly reducing greenhouse gas emissions – and the emergence of synthetic foods.

Synthetic proteins such as the Impossible Burger have captured media attention. I believe these foods, like margarine, will find their niche and will be accepted by a few, but the grass-fed meat will, like butter, always be the real thing.

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For every challenge, there is an opportunity, and I believe we in the red meat sector are well-placed to differentiate our product globally without having to significantly change our farming systems.

New Zealand"s grass-fed, free-range systems already tick a lot of boxes. As farmers, we have always had to adapt to changes in market signals, regulation and technologies and we will continue to do so to ensure we meet the needs of our consumers and our public.

A marketing team from Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) has just returned from visiting Asia, Europe, and the United States to gain an understanding of the dynamics of those markets and determine how best to differentiate our product in the global marketplace. Watch this space.

Back home, our region has had its own set of challenges. Soils are sodden after so much rain, and while this moisture should set us up for a good spring, feed utilisation has been down, and livestock and farmers are sick of mud.

Some farmers have been walloped by floods and B+LNZ, along with Ministry for Primary Industries and Rural Support Trust are working to support these people.

The recent outbreak of Mycoplasma bovis on Aad and Wilma Van Leeuwen's Glenavy farm is heartbreaking. This couple has been leaders and entrepreneurs in the dairy and agricultural industries and I empathise with them. 

This incident should serve as a wake-up call for us all in regards to on-farm biosecurity.

We all need to be thinking about traffic and people movements on and off our farms and be vigilant about cleaning footwear, protective clothing and animal handling equipment after working with stock.

Unlike diseases such as foot and mouth disease, Mycoplasma bovis's hard to detect and impossible to treat. While we all hope this outbreak will be contained and eradicated, other diseases could threaten our industry, so we all need to do our bit to protect our farms and livelihoods.

As B+LNZ works through a strategy refresh, it is particularly timely to welcome Melissa Clark-Reynolds onto the board as an independent director.

She brings a wealth of governance and business experience to the table and most importantly, a fresh set of eyes from outside the red meat industry. I look forward to working with her on your behalf.

Bill Wright is a sheep and beef farmer from Cannington.

 - Stuff

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