The discovery of a new cluster of Mycoplasma bovis in Canterbury is a reminder our battle to eliminate this cattle disease is ongoing. With cattle on two farms testing positive last week, it means a total of seven farms in the province are infected, with another 146 properties around New Zealand under active surveillance.
On the positive side, the latest infections show our monitoring systems are working. MPI’s Mycoplasma bovis programme director Stuart Anderson has said there is no cause for alarm. The number of cases are still well within what had been forecast.
We’re now two and a half years into the ambitious campaign to eliminate M. bovis from our shores. If we can achieve it, it will be a world first. More than 1.6 million tests have been carried out, and $184.6 million paid in compensation to affected farmers.
For me, the campaign has echoes of our success in the face of another serious threat to a significant primary industry. A decade ago I was working at MPI and the kiwifruit disease PSA was discovered in New Zealand orchards.
Earlier this month I was delighted to be at Zespri’s headquarters in Mt Maunganui together with others involved in the PSA response and recovery efforts to mark the 10th anniversary of the launch of our offensive against that scourge.
Pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae (Psa) is a highly virulent bacterial canker on kiwifruit vines. This bacteria is found in several countries worldwide, including Italy, Chile and Japan, and was first identified in New Zealand in 2010. While PSA still affects kiwifruit in New Zealand the industry developed new varieties and disease management tools to successfully recover.
PSA showed us how important biosecurity is to agriculture in New Zealand. The introduction of PSA into New Zealand and the devastating effects it had on Hort 16 a – the gold kiwifruit at that time – where catastrophic. Growers’ livelihoods, their orchards and in many cases their life savings and investments were threatened.
However, the PSA response also showed how resilient agriculture, and in this case the kiwifruit industry, can be. At the time, the industry and government agreed within days to invest $20 million each to the response to PSA and a KiwiFruit Vine Health (KVH) was established to lead the charge.
Unexpectedly, veterinarians like me found themselves involved in a horticulture disease. Along with Stu Hutchings, now Chief Executive of KVH, I was able to bring animal disease management skills to the table. Barry O’Neil, also a veterinarian, was head of Biosecurity New Zealand at the time and the anniversary event in Mt Maunganui he recounted the days leading up to government and industry mounting what was ultimately a successful response to this terrible disease.
Farming and agriculture in New Zealand have faced many challenges and crises over the years. Mycoplasma Bovis and PSA won’t be the last but the resilience created through experience and sharing knowledge across sectors can be of tremendous benefits.
Today the variety G3 marketed as Sungold and green kiwifruit are major export earners for New Zealand. Ten years on it is an amazing story of recovery.
With government and industry continuing the current resolve and diligence in the face of M. bovis, I look forward to a future celebration when we can say we also didn’t let that disease beat us.