Kiwifruit growers Robbie Ellison and his wife Karen run Makaira Orchards in Te Puke, south east of Tauranga. When the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) announced in November 2010 that Psa-V had been discovered in a neighbouring orchard, the airborne disease was found on the Ellisons’ crops.
“We were right in the thick of it,” says Robbie. “I never want to go through another summer like that again. DairyNZ and dairy farmers were very supportive of kiwifruit growers during our crisis, so I’d like to return the favour now they’re dealing with Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis).”
Everyone pulling together
Robbie says when Psa-V first broke out, MPI did its best to support kiwifruit farmers. “It was ‘all hands on deck’, with fewer resources then.”
After initially trying to contain and eradicate the bacteria, ongoing management of the airborne disease became the only realistic option. Kiwifruit-grower advocacy organisation, Kiwifruit Vine Health (KVH), also formed. “KVH helped kiwifruit growers link in better with MPI and each other.”
As kiwifruit growers did back then, all dairy farmers need to support each other through biosecurity challenges – even though only a small percentage of dairy farms is currently infected with M. bovis, says Robbie.
“It’s important those on infected farms don’t feel isolated. If the whole has strength, the individual has strength.”
Simple efforts make a difference
“We’ve had some great results from things like focusing on tool hygiene, copper-spraying and providing more shelter to protect the vines from wind damage.” (Damaged vines are more vulnerable to the bacteria getting in.)
Robbie says he also carefully sources and tracks new plant material – for example, vine seedlings and grafts – which he equates to the dairy sector’s need for accurate record-keeping on tracking and tracing cows.
From change to gain
Sometimes crisis and change can lead to opportunities. For example, adjusting how they managed the ‘male’ kiwifruit vines and switching to Sungold yellow kiwifruit instead of Hort16A, led to significant increases in crop yields.
Robbie’s aware that biosecurity compliance and administration can be a barrier to action for many.
“However, there’s so much help out there from industry and sector organisations to help us get our heads around that. The bottom line is, if we don’t do the simple stuff and the paperwork, none of us will have an industry.”
Robbie’s top tips for dairy farmers
- Movement is key – track and trace, whether it’s plants or cows.
- Keep it clean with good hygiene – tools, machinery, boots and all.
- Share knowledge and support – with each other and your sector.
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy November 2018