Mycoplasma bovis could end New Zealand share-milking - Cowsmo

Mycoplasma bovis could end New Zealand share-milking

Farmers are predicting the end of sharemilking as the country moves to control the outbreak of Mycoplasma bovis.

Share-milkers own their own cows – but not the land– so move them from farm to farm. Some use the income to save for their own farm.

But Primary Industries Minister Damien O’Connor said farming practices must change, with less movement of stock, as officials battle the infection.

“This will ultimately change the way that we do farm in New Zealand … there will be less off-farm grazing, less movement of stock, more dependence on their own breeding regimes for replacement of stock and better management of their milk,” he said.

Ben Walling’s farm, near Lumsden in Southland, has been infected since December. He said if the disease is not eradicated from New Zealand, farmers will be wary of sharemilkers.

“You can farm with it but you have to be a closed farm. That means no more trading stock, no more sharemilkers,” he said.

“If you are a sharemilker, you work your way up to 1500 cows and you get M. bovis then no-one is going to buy your cows so you can go buy a farm, no farm owner is going to take you so you are buggered. That’s the end of sharemilking.”

Federated Farmers National vice-president Andrew Hoggard was also concerned about the future of those who practice the tradition.

“Some of the sharemilkers that had their herds culled through the Van Leeuwen group have just said, ‘nah, this is it, we are out of here’ and have pulled the pin on farming.”

South Canterbury dairy farmer Aad van Leeuwen reported the incurable disease in his cattle last July.

Sharemilkers are already declining in numbers. Latest figures from Dairy NZ show 27.3 per cent of dairy herds operated under a sharemilking agreement in 2016-17, down from 32.4 per cent in the previous year.

There were just over 5000 sharemilkers across the country in 1995, falling to just over 3800 a decade later.

Hoggard said there will be more “tough times” for sharemilkers if the Government opts for managing the disease over full-scale eradication. Cabinet will announce the decision on Monday.

“It is going to be hard for anyone to move animals anywhere because there is going to be a huge risk factor to it, which would make it exceptionally tough for sharemilking,” he said.

“It [sharemilking] is pretty much only in New Zealand, and a little bit in Australia and nowhere else really because with [other countries] they have all these biosecurity issues so they don’t move their stock around – they stay put with their cows.”

Improved controls would help, he said.

“A decent test, decent systems in place to know animals’ history, herd status and a biosecurity ranking for farms then you’d be more confident in moving and you wouldn’t be so petrified and terrified.”

National’s primary industries spokesman Nathan Guy agreed farming will change.

“This has been a wake-up call and what I’m hearing is that farmers will be very mindful of stock movements and contractors and equipment coming off and on the farm and as they focus on that they’ll run more of a closed farming system.”

But he does not believe it will signal an end to sharemilking.

“I think the sharemilkers have got a very proud history in New Zealand. I’m hopeful that will continue,” he said.

“It just means animals will have to be tested … it might mean sharemilkers will want to stay longer. There will just have to be a bit of a reset.”



Scroll to Top