Farmer has to start again after M bovis

Hakataramea Valley farmer Graham Hay explains the effects of Mycoplasma bovis on his farming business to Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean. Photo: Supplied
Hakataramea Valley farmer Graham Hay explains the effects of Mycoplasma bovis on his farming business to Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean. Photo: Supplied
It is not surprising that Graham Hay gets a little choked up as he describes the devastating impact of Mycoplasma bovis on his farming business.

The Hakataramea Valley property has been in the family since his grandfather took over in 1921 and Mr Hay has lived there all his life.

He and his wife, Sonja, have invested in it for their children to carry on and he was one of the drivers of Haka Valley Irrigation Ltd, a small group of farmers who brought water to the traditionally dry valley.

But the cattle disease has ''destroyed'' their business.

''Our business, as we know it, has gone and we've got to start again,'' he said yesterday.

Mr and Mrs Hay had a dairy grazing business and, when one of their three graziers had a positive test for the disease, their own property was placed under a notice of direction (NOD) last year.

Mr Hay said it was a helpless position to be in as they felt they could not do anything, nor make decisions.

They went through four months of testing and 35 heifers, including some in-calf, were killed from all three graziers, but all results were negative. In mid-March, their NOD was lifted.

In the meantime, their other graziers had to find other grazing for their calves and were then committed to 12 months, and by the time the NOD was lifted, Mr Hay could not get calves to replace them.

Now he had to ''restart'' his whole farming system - he could get winter grazing but then ''nothing after that'' - and he had to work out how to create a new cash flow.

''Basically, the business, from what I was doing, has gone ... destroyed,'' he said.

Mr Hay, who reckoned it had cost the couple about $9000 a week, had put in claims for compensation and received some of their first claim last Friday.

He understood there was no compensation after a NOD was lifted. But he was going to try for some, saying ''you can't go and destroy somebody's business and just walk away from it''.

The couple were already under financial pressure because of the irrigation development, as they were just getting through the development phase, so the timing was ''incredibly bad''.

Now the faced uncertainty as they tried to get back on their feet, and having to budget on a trading system when there were so many unknowns.

When it came to the Ministry for Primary Industries' handling of the response, Mr Hay said there were some ''good guys'' who had been trying very hard, but, overall, it had been handled ''really poorly''.

There was poor communication, staff did not know what was going on and no-one could make decisions and people who had tried to help got reprimanded for it.

A decision was expected on Monday as to whether phased eradication or long-term management of the disease would be undertaken.

While Mr Hay understood the desire to try to eradicate it, he believed a halt needed to be called to the widespread stock slaughter, and it should be managed as best as it could be.

''Get on with the process and stop stuffing around. They've got to realise farming is still a pretty big part of our economy. They can't keep walking away from people and letting them go bankrupt,'' he said.

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean said the scale of the outbreak was ''huge''.

''I have seen their [farmers] faces, describing the agony they went through seeing all their years of hard work loaded on to cattle trucks to be sent away and slaughtered.

''The fear in their eyes as they reveal the level of debt they are now under and whether they will be able to pay their bills next month, let alone stay afloat while rebuilding their business,'' she said.

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