As we emerge from another round of lockdowns that resulted in the cancellation of the Northland Field Days and the NZ Horse of the Year Show, it’s worth remembering that rural communities have a history of dealing with incursions, disasters and diseases, such as the current battle with Mycoplasma bovis.
According to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) director of the Mycoplasma bovis eradication programme, Stuart Anderson, it's a case of ensuring that there is no infection left on any of the farms.
Anderson says MPI is coming to the tail end of the eradication programme, although there are still some infected farms in the South Island.
He says the number of staff involved in the programme has been reduced and they have also driven efficiencies in the way the programme operates.
"We now know a lot more about the disease than we did in the early stages of the programmes and over time we have developed some better tools for tracing and modelling the spread," he told Rural News.
"So it's now a case of going back through, particularly those early cases, to apply these new tools for tracing and using the improved modelling we have developed, as well as our better knowledge of the disease. The aim is just to make sure that all the potential of risk have been identified and ensuring that, in the terms of the risk, we haven't left any stone unturned."
Anderson says the review has the support of the M. bovis Technical Advisory Group (TAG), which agrees this is about reassurance and best practice. He adds there are no flags that have alerted them to any particular problems on farms that suggest something might have been missed in the past.
He says there is now more awareness of M. bovis than there was in the early stages of the programme and admits it was certainly tough for farmers dealing with the disease.
Anderson believes one of the positives to emerge is the general awareness and compliance with NAIT.
"We have definitely learned a lot from what happened in the early stages of the programme and there were some hard lessons then - things didn't always go as well as they should," he adds.
They have worked really hard to gain from these lessons and, in particular, developing better relationships with farmers.
"We've got people operating at the regional level - who have either got a farming background, an understanding of farming or have a rural connection."
Anderson says whenever they have to do such things as testing or depopulating animals from a farm, MPI tries its best to understand the farming business.
"We know that each farming business is different and we work up a plan and try to do things better," he says.
Anderson says MPI is also focusing more on supporting farmers and working with Rural Support Trusts and other agencies to help farmers and the wider rural community affected by M. bovis. He says by doing this, they get to feel the pulse of the community and get a better handle on the nature and size of the issues.
He admits there is still some more work to be done to finally eradicate M. bovis, but says MPI is confident that it is tracking in the right direction.
"My message to farmers is that this piece of work is also about recognising the sacrifices and commitments made by the 260-plus farmers who have been through bovis," Anderson says.
"To make sure we have swept across everything and that there are no risks that haven't been addressed."