Wellington region benefits from TBfree programme

Date 24 July 2018

A New Zealand free of bovine tuberculosis is the ultimate goal of the TBfree programme, says Wellington TBfree committee member and Battle Hill farmer Richard Iremonger.

While the programme’s possum control in the Wellington region and lower North Island is bringing that goal closer, there is still work to be done.

Bovine TB is a food safety risk and a risk to farm animals, humans and pets. It is considered a serious disease by the World Health Organisation. Removing the disease from the possum population is the key component in eradicating TB from the Wellington region and from New Zealand.

Possums are the main vector of TB between wildlife and farmed cattle and deer, and also infect recreational hunting animals such as pigs and deer. Great gains have been made in clearing TB over the past 25 years through large scale possum control, which interrupts the disease cycle and means the disease cannot persist.

The TBfree programme is funded by a partnership between cattle and dairy industries through farmers’ levies and Government funding. The government contribution represents the benefits that the programme’s work brings to all of New Zealand.

Today the TBfree programme has brought infected herd numbers to zero in the Wellington region more than 300 infected herds in 1994, and is on target to prove freedom from disease in the region’s wildlife by 2035.

The plan to eradicate bovine TB needs sustained possum control to deliver the TBfree New Zealand we’re all working towards.

- Richard Iremonger, Battle Hill Farm manager

The gains towards TB freedom have been achieved with a three-pronged approach.

The first is removing the wild TB source with sustained possum control through ground and aerial operations. The southern Remutaka and Aorangi ranges have been treated over the past three years, and an operation in the northern Remutaka is planned this winter. Pest control through the TBfree programme takes possum numbers down to less than two possums per 10 hectares for a 7-10 year period to wipe TB out of the population.

Secondly, TB testing and disease management on the region’s farms identifies where the disease may be present in cattle and deer herds and thirdly, movement restrictions on cattle and deer prevents disease arriving or spreading between premises.

The vast majority of the possum control work for the TB programme is completed by contractors using ground trapping, bait stations and toxins. This is supported by aerial operations in areas where ground control methods are impractical due to the land access or topography.

The reduced numbers of possums around Battle Hill Farm and the other blocks I manage around the region are quite obvious. It’s good news for disease control, but also for the Predator Free 2050 campaign: it significantly reduces the devastation that possums cause to native plants and animals, and native forests thrive in the wake of possum control operations.

The national network of TBfree committees has been the backbone of the TBfree programme, and the fight for TB eradication since the 1990s. Many committee members are working farmers who foster links with the rural community and are a great source of advice.

They have representatives from organisations such as Federated Farmers, the Regional Council, and DOC, and welcome the next generation of farmers. If you are interested in getting involved in the TBfree programme, please visit ospri.co.nz or get in touch with OSPRI on 0800 482 463.


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