BY: TIM FULTON
A top-level admission of system failure by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is only the tip of the knife for beef farmers Ross and Deanna Ferguson.
It took 16 months for the Mycoplasma bovis programme to notify Ross and Deanna Ferguson of an infection on their North Canterbury farm. By this time, the suspect stock were just a few months from being finished.
The Fergusons have been compensated tens of thousands of dollars, including the value of culled stock and operational costs involved with the supervised M bovis slaughter. The Hawarden couple did not give Country-Wide an exact compensation figure but it’s understood to be at least $40,000.
“The compensation was worse than marginal. We would have got more out of it if we’d just sent them to slaughter,” Ross Ferguson said.
The couple are most upset at the M bovis programme’s failure to notify their stock infection sooner – and confusion and back-tracking over how, and when, cattle would be sent to slaughter.
The biggest problem was a lack of farming know-how, empathy and clear communication, Ferguson said.
“MPI didn’t allow us to finish them.”
Their sisters were killed and the stock would have been killed at two years. They also had to put a man at risk to put up portable yards.
“There’s no common sense, that’s the main point.”
In February 2017 Ferguson bought 124 bull calves and six heifer calves from his brother Duncan’s dairy farm at Oxford, about 50km west of Christchurch.
The Fergusons planned to grow the animals to prime value over two years, but the Oxford farm was subsequently classed as an infected farm.
Ross Ferguson said MPI knew about the calf purchase in February 2018 but did not contact them to notify a suspected M bovis infection until May 2019.
He said their animals, regardless of their sisters’ test results, represented no risk of spreading M bovis around Hawarden. Nor further afield, as their farm had no neighbours farming cattle nearby, had never left home and would do so until
BY: TIM FULTONslaughter at two years old.
In mid-2019 Ferguson wrote to their Kaikoura electorate MP, Stuart Smith, asking him to advocate for them.
He did not want to go to the market and buy replacement cattle that may have had M bovis or enter into negotiations about the cost of the feed budgeted (but not eaten) to feed their bulls.
“If we can kill them as prime in December  there will be no cost to the taxpayer.”
Ross and Deanna failed to see the urgency to kill these bulls, especially in light of their sisters’ [ultimately clear] results. No tests have been done on the bulls, and MPI were made aware of these bulls in February 2018, the letter to Smith said.
Ferguson also wanted to know why they couldn’t pen animals in the permanent yards they had recently bought.
After Smith put the Ferguson’s letter to Agriculture Minister, Damien O’Connor, an advisor to the minister said MPI “accepts that the delay in notifying [the Fergusons] that their stock contained animals suspected of M bovis infection fell well short of the standards and approach that the eradication programme sets as good disease management practice and farmer support.”
The M bovis programme advised the Minister’s office that a cull of the farmers’ cattle was needed as soon as possible.
“Although MPI understands [the farmers’] desire to delay the depopulation, there is a high probability that these stock will be infected, as they come from a property confirmed as infected, and to stop the potential for wider spread of the disease it is important that depopulation now occur as soon as practicable.”
However, the Minister’s advisor promised the Fergusons that “special efforts” would be made to ensure they were well supported in the cull and compensation process. Further, the farmers “would be compensated for any loss against the full prime value of the stock, regardless of when the stock are culled.”
Ferguson disputed apparent discrepancies in his proposed compensation. He told Country-Wide their first ICP (Incident Control Point) manager, one of several who ultimately worked with the couple, offered to value their cattle on a growth rate of 800g/day.
The Fergusons said that after several months of negotiation with officials in the M Bovis Programme, they were offered a per head price, based on an independent PGG Wrightson valuation.
The Fergusons asked, why, when their animals were always going to be finished for slaughter, could they not be offered a per/kg price?
In a written response to Country-Wide, M bovis programme Northern South Island regional manager, Lydia Pomeroy, said in this case, it was determined that the animals were trace animals (i.e. had earlier been part of an infected herd) and that the stock needed to be culled.
“Our ICP Managers worked with the farmer to develop a plan for the removal of the trace animals,” she said.
In order to compensate for the farmer’s losses, it was policy and procedure for an ICP Manager to organise a valuation from one of the approved valuers.
“This process was followed, and it is simply not true to say the ICP manager gave a verbal valuation.”
Per-head valuations by an approved valuer were completed and sent to the farmer. Valuations based on weight were also made at the time of loadout, which took place on October 15-16, 2019.
The Fergusons could use the valuations to determine which one they wished to submit to claim compensation. Farmers were compensated for production losses when beef animals were culled before they reached their target weight, Pomeroy said.
“Compensation is for the lost income for these animals culled by MPI and is based on what the target weight for these stock would be, less any costs of production avoided of not having these stock on the farm, and any mitigations achieved.”
Compensation claims could be made for future loss of meat production due to a direction under the Biosecurity Act.
Pomeroy said The M.Bovis Programme and DBCAT (DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb New Zealand Compensation Assistance Team) would continue to support the claimant through the compensation and recovery process.