About 22,300 cattle will be culled off 22 farms infected with the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis in a signal that officials hope to eradicate it.
At an average cost of $1650 per milking cow, the value of the cattle would be approximately $36.5 million.
However many are lesser value calves, and when the cows are sent to meat processors, they will be worth between $800 and $1000.
At the beginning of the month, officials said $2.6m had so far been paid out to affected farmers, and projected a further $60m of liabilities. Operating costs to that date were $35m.
Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor said it would give farmers much-needed certainty over their futures.
Although the disease has been detected on 28 properties since it was first discovered in July last year, only 22 have cattle remaining on them that will need to be culled.
The properties are in Canterbury, Mid-Canterbury (Ashburton), South Canterbury/North Otago/Otago and Southland (Winton, Lumsden, Invercargill, Gore).
O’Connor said scientific testing and tracing had confirmed the disease was not endemic, or widespread throughout the country.
The Ministry for Primary Industries said all affected farmers would be compensated for their verifiable losses. Once their cattle were slaughtered and properties cleaned, the farmers could start re-building a disease-free herd from scratch.
Federated Farmers dairy chairman Chris Lewis said it was a good move, but he felt for the farmers who would be “devastated”.
Not only would they lose animals they felt affection for, they would also lost the genetics they had developed over years.
Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon said the news would be devastating for some farmers, but at least it provided certainty.
“I’m really pleased that MPI have made a decision today. The main thing is we don’t have to move into a management phase, so it’s vital that MPI make the cull aggressively.”
National’s Primary Industries spokesman Nathan Guy said it would be a nervous time for affected farmers because it would be some time before they could restart farming again.
O’Connor said the fact the disease was not widespread was critical to controlling its spread.
“Everyone across New Zealand can understand how incredibly difficult it is for these farmers to lose their herds – many of these animals will be known individually. While we still have challenges ahead in managing this outbreak, these families can move forward with their farms and live.”
MPI director response Geoff Gwyn said officials were able to take the decision now because they were confident Mycoplasma bovis was not well established in New Zealand.
“The testing of milk from every dairy farm in New Zealand is very well advanced and to date has only identified one new infected property.
“This, combined with MPI’s extensive surveillance work tracing every possible movement of animals from infected farms, gives us the confidence to say the disease is not widespread, but is limited to a network of farms connected by animal movements. Culling these animals is now the appropriate action.”
Non-infected farms that are under Restricted Places Notices or Notices of Direction were not being asked to cull their herds yet because infection has not yet been confirmed on those properties. Confirmation relies on the defining genetic test which provides complete confidence that animals on a farm are positive.
There are 48 farms under Restricted Place Notices, awaiting confirmation they are either cleared or contaminated.
Gwyn says MPI would work with farmers to develop individual management plans for each of these properties – until a decision on whether to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis or move to long-term management was made.
Eradication had to be “technically possible, practically achievable and affordable”. MPI was modeling the potential spread of the disease under different scenarios.
“People will say ‘why haven’t you done this already’. In fact we have been working on this since the disease was detected and we depopulated seven farms in December.”
“We halted further culling until we better understood the spread of the disease. We are now at that point where we have that understanding and can complete this work with confidence,” Gwyn said.