King Country farmer hails TB success

Date 26 February 2019

Roger Beck is pleased to see the back of bovine TB.

“This was Battle Zone A back in the day, this area just north of Taumaranui. TB was rampant in this part of the world,” he says. Now it’s a TB success story – a Vector Free Area clear of TB-infected possums, where TB testing has been reduced as the risk of herd infection recedes. Roger farms about 760 hectares of hill country running about 3200 breeding ewes and between 600 and 800 cattle. “Plus we take on around 160 grazers from May-to-May,” he says. “That would have been unthinkable before TB was removed from this area.”

How that has been achieved is a story of cooperation, collaboration and about 30 years of consistent hard work. “We’ve been here since 1990 but we had TB on-and-off for the first eight or nine years. We got clear in 2003. So we know a fair bit about managing TB.”

“A concerted effort by everybody is what got rid of TB around here,” says Roger. “Not just conscientious testing, not just possum control, but a group approach by all involved – the farmers, the Regional Council, the Animal Health Board [which became OSPRI].”

“I really believe in the three-legged stool approach: TB testing, stock movement control and possum control,” he says. “The place was crawling with possums in the 1990s, and they were spreading bovine TB among the cattle herds,” Roger remembers. “But that concerted effort took possum numbers right down and removed the disease from the area.”

The proof of a healthier environment is in the rata flowering – “for years we thought they were dead!” – and in Roger’s garden. “We used to fight the possums for our fruit and roses – they’d eat the lot. Now our competition is from the kereru, which is a nice problem to have.”

And TB testing time is not the burden it once was. “I don’t get nervous about TB testing anymore. I used to be a nervous wreck ahead of TB testing because you never knew whether you were going to get a reactor and have to slaughter good animals.”

Roger has done great service for the farming community with his representation on the regional TBfree committee and now stepping down and is ready for a young farmer to take the reins. “There’s a bit of a disconnect coming with the next generation, because TB is just ancient history as far as they’re concerned,” he says.

“We’ve achieved every goal that we set, and sooner than anticipated, so I don’t doubt we’ll see the end of TB in livestock by 2026, and I’m pretty confident we’ll have it all gone before I throw my towel in,” Roger says. “The scary thing is – and this will be the challenge for educating the next generation – if we take our foot of the throttle now, we could easily go backwards in quick time. They need to realise how serious it was, and any tapering off now could see us slide backwards.

“The last possum will be the hardest one to kill, and the last bit of infection will be the hardest to get rid of, so we’re going to have to keep pouring resources into it for a while yet.” Meet Roger in a short video here.

Disease Control Area changes come into effect on 1 March 2019, and the status of your property will be updated on an interactive map online at ospri.co.nz/dcamap.

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King Country farmer Roger Beck: "I really believe in the three-legged stool approach: TB testing, stock movement control and possum control."