Farm biosecurity in the spotlight

Even the movement of people coming on and off the farm property has been challenged.

But despite the stark realities of M.bovis meaning sometimes entire herds are culled, the job of getting farmers to enforce biosecurity within the farm gate can be a tough ask, and one that often only comes about when the property has been subject to a biosecurity scare.

This year, kiwifruit grower Simon Cook spent time travelling around the world studying how other countries respond and manage their various biosecurity issues.

His work took him to Florida, where citrus growers have been crippled by a US$4 billion outbreak of citrus greening disease but not combated it in a unified, constructive way.

In South America, farmers in Chile were completely disengaged from a brown marmorated stink bug outbreak in nearby Santiago.

Mr Cook came back recognising New Zealand has one of the best border security systems in the world but also aware our farm-level biosecurity, despite a wave of incursions in the past decade, remains questionable.

Close to home, he saw biosecurity boosted then fade on orchards in his Bay of Plenty home region after the Psa outbreak.

“Post-Psa, there was a lot of attention paid to spraying and cleaning equipment, but once the disease had spread that dropped away,” Mr Cook said.

“Really, there are procedures we should be sticking to, not so much to cope with Psa but to help prevent whatever disease it is that follows Psa.”

He also saw something similar in the pastoral sector where in the wake of the M.bovis outbreak, the fading risk of the disease spreading threatened to bring a return of farmer complacency about on-farm biosecurity measures.

Unfortunately it is the nature of farming and farmers themselves that makes lifting farm biosecurity a tough job.

Research by WorkSafe New Zealand has shown that because farmers want to make their own decisions about their businesses and because they prefer to work alone, it is difficult to communicate the importance of practices like biosecurity.

“So as soon as you require changes to things like biosecurity, they are unlikely to pick up on it voluntarily, and only through regulation will those requirements be adopted.”

This unwillingness to adopt has prompted the likes of AgResearch to take on social scientists to better understand what it is that will motivate farmers to change.

And as farming and tourism become more closely linked in New Zealand, the risk of diseases spreading grows.

Scientists from AgResearch have also studied dirt on international visitors’ footwear through Auckland and Christchurch airports and found more than half the samples had seeds within the dirt, two thirds had nematodes and almost all had fungi and bacteria present.

Perhaps surprisingly, more than a third also had the body parts of insects within them.

The researchers concluded that given the high occurrence, the cost of disinfecting soiled shoes could probably be justified.

Scientists who followed the invasion of the clover flea weevil in the 1990s highlighted the importance of farm biosecurity.

It moved from the North Island to South Island, and in Canterbury that came directly from livestock transported south.

Hotspots of the pest were found in paddocks in the Culverden district and north of the Waimakariri River.

Farm biosecurity is on the radar of farm buyers and sellers much more than it has been, thanks in part to the M.bovis outbreak.

Even the movement of people coming on and off the farm property has been challenged.

But despite the stark realities of M.bovis meaning sometimes entire herds are culled, the job of getting farmers to enforce biosecurity within the farm gate can be a tough ask, and one that often only comes about when the property has been subject to a biosecurity scare.

This year, kiwifruit grower Simon Cook spent time travelling around the world studying how other countries respond and manage their various biosecurity issues.

His work took him to Florida, where citrus growers have been crippled by a US$4 billion outbreak of citrus greening disease but not combated it in a unified, constructive way.

In South America, farmers in Chile were completely disengaged from a brown marmorated stink bug outbreak in nearby Santiago.

Mr Cook came back recognising New Zealand has one of the best border security systems in the world but also aware our farm-level biosecurity, despite a wave of incursions in the past decade, remains questionable.

Close to home, he saw biosecurity boosted then fade on orchards in his Bay of Plenty home region after the Psa outbreak.

“Post-Psa, there was a lot of attention paid to spraying and cleaning equipment, but once the disease had spread that dropped away,” Mr Cook said.

“Really, there are procedures we should be sticking to, not so much to cope with Psa but to help prevent whatever disease it is that follows Psa.”

He also saw something similar in the pastoral sector where in the wake of the M.bovis outbreak, the fading risk of the disease spreading threatened to bring a return of farmer complacency about on-farm biosecurity measures.

Unfortunately it is the nature of farming and farmers themselves that makes lifting farm biosecurity a tough job.

Research by WorkSafe New Zealand has shown that because farmers want to make their own decisions about their businesses and because they prefer to work alone, it is difficult to communicate the importance of practices like biosecurity.

“So as soon as you require changes to things like biosecurity, they are unlikely to pick up on it voluntarily, and only through regulation will those requirements be adopted.”

This unwillingness to adopt has prompted the likes of AgResearch to take on social scientists to better understand what it is that will motivate farmers to change.

And as farming and tourism become more closely linked in New Zealand, the risk of diseases spreading grows.

Scientists from AgResearch have also studied dirt on international visitors’ footwear through Auckland and Christchurch airports and found more than half the samples had seeds within the dirt, two thirds had nematodes and almost all had fungi and bacteria present.

Perhaps surprisingly, more than a third also had the body parts of insects within them.

The researchers concluded that given the high occurrence, the cost of disinfecting soiled shoes could probably be justified.

Scientists who followed the invasion of the clover flea weevil in the 1990s highlighted the importance of farm biosecurity.

It moved from the North Island to South Island, and in Canterbury that came directly from livestock transported south.

Hotspots of the pest were found in paddocks in the Culverden district and north of the Waimakariri River.

Farm biosecurity is on the radar of farm buyers and sellers much more than it has been, thanks in part to the M.bovis outbreak.

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