Testing for bluetongue virus has been underway at cattle stations across Western Australia’s Pilbara region this week.
Unlike much of Queensland, the Northern Territory and the Kimberley, the Pilbara is currently within the bluetongue free zone.
That’s valuable because bluetongue free status is required for exporters to access the Israeli market, which takes young bulls and is highly lucrative for producers.
Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia (DAFWA) vet, Kevin Hepworth, says it’s likely China will also be a bluetongue sensitive market for live exports.
“At the moment, dairy heifers that go to China have to be tested, so it’s likely as that market develops it will be bluetongue sensitive and rely heavily on our surveillance system and zone map.
“The bluetongue sensitive market is worth at least $90 million to the Australian cattle industry, so it’s worth preserving by providing credible evidence of where the virus is and isn’t.”
Kevin will visit 10 Pilbara stations in all, taking blood samples from between 15 and 30 young cattle at each.
The bluetongue sensitive market is worth at least $90 million to the Australian cattle industry, so it’s worth preserving.
The blood testing is part of the National Arbovirus Monitoring Program (NAMP).
Arboviruses are transmitted by biting insects and in addition to bluetongue, Kevin’s samples will also be checked for akabane and bovine empheral fever viruses.
He expects the results will be ready in a month’s time, at which point the Australian Bluetongue Zone map will be updated with the results.
“The pastoralists involved and the exporters are told, so everybody can know what’s in and what’s out of the zone.
“In the last 10 years the Pilbara has gone into the bluetongue zone twice and it takes two years of testing and monitoring in order to come back out of the zone.
“Hopefully the Pilbara will stay out of it, but to be honest other pastoralists should be really thankful for the people that test, because without them they’d all be locked out of those markets.”
Trapping sites exist throughout northern Australia to detect the specific midges which can carry bluetongue virus.
The midges are not often active in the Pilbara, preferring a more tropical climate.