New start for 2020 after emotional ride

Mid Canterbury farmer Duncan Barr is looking forward to having no on-farm interruptions. Photo: Central Rural Life files
Mid Canterbury farmer Duncan Barr is looking forward to having no on-farm interruptions. Photo: Central Rural Life files
Lynne and Duncan Barr have spent the past few months re-adjusting their lives after being given the all clear from Mycoplasma bovis.

The couple suffered a particularly tough and emotional ride, starting in late April 2018 when they identified M. bovis trace animals on their Brogdens Rd run-off block at Lowcliffe, south of Ashburton. Calves they bought the year earlier had come from an M. bovis positive property. They went into voluntary lockdown of the block.

It was one of three properties with stock they farmed at the time; they also had a lease block in Coldstream Rd, and their home dairy farm at Old Main South Rd, Ealing, milking around 675 cows, which was always clear, but came under a lot of scrutiny.

In the following months they were inundated following a bureaucratic paper trail process which, at times, seemed nonsensical.

Mr Barr, enjoying time being a farmer again, was unaware until now about just how much the process had affected him. It was so consuming and created a lot of confusion from differing information, if there was any information at all.

He said it was quite nice getting back to normal without interruptions although Mother Nature did late last year remind them of her force, overflowing the nearby Rangitata River and forcing the closure of State Highway 1. It meant limited milk tanker access for a few days and milk being dumped.

But being on the high side of the Rangitata River, Mr Barr said they had nothing like the sort of issues farmers on the lower levels faced.

Time away from dealing with Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) staff and those in the M. bovis programme highlighted just how annoying the whole M. bovis programme was, he said.

‘‘It was all-consuming and you get drawn away from your core duties. You get tied into the bureaucratic process and what you should be doing, you haven’t got time for it, you get called away from it.’’

The last time Central Rural Life caught up with the Barrs they were waiting for compensation payment.

It came through in mid-September after a five and a-half month wait. But it will not be the Barrs’ final claim. There are still losses to claim on annual earnings, such as loss of calf business earnings and losses of earnings on Wagyu animal contracts.

These upcoming claims have involved regular contact with an accountant and waiting for proof of annual earnings losses.

‘‘It doesn’t go away overnight. It does take a long time to get out.

‘‘And probably the mental issue with it as well. I’ll be honest with you, it’s only in the last month or six weeks that my head is clear from it,'' Mr Barr said.

He has remained in contact with other farmers dealing with issues in the process and will step in when needed, but has taken time to clear his own head.

The Mbovis Affected Farmers Facebook page, an online farmer to farmer support group which he helped to set up, was still available for farmers as a way to find out information.

The open page was set up in late November 2018 and reached farmers nationwide.

It was aimed to help minimise stress on farmers going through the eradication process.

Mr Barr, who was the initial group spokesman, knew how beneficial farmer-to-farmer contact was. The page allowed farmers to find out about anything relevant to the M. bovis programme or about MPI’s response activity.

At the time the Facebook page was set up Mr Barr was having difficulty with the length of time things were taking and the complete lack of information, which was the most difficult to deal with. He felt totally isolated, which was the reason behind the Facebook page — to get others talking and to let them know they were not alone.

For people who do not use Facebook, the group can be reached via email at

Mr Barr is looking forward to getting back to some normality now.

‘‘When you look at how bad things were handled 12 months ago, and the advice and stuff that’s been given to MPI, you would think that things would’ve improved, but it’s got worse.

‘‘Twelve months ago they could say they didn’t know, but (now) they know. They are still making the same mistakes, and even worse mistakes than they were making 12 months ago. The worst part about it, is it doesn’t have to be this bad.

‘‘Fundamentally they still do not know how farms work. Until they know that, there is no way they can get on top of it.’’

For now Mr Barr is looking forward, not back, and taking a breather with no immediate plans in place.

He has an interest in the South Canterbury dairy farmers Aad and Wilma van Leeuwen court case (which started last month in Wellington) against MPI over lost compensation estimated to be about $3 million, and would really like a clear indication of what costs to date have been spent through the programme. Especially with a large amount of running about costs by programme staff and associated costs with processes.

Mr Barr did not think communication had improved in the past 12 months and was concerned that as soon as the $870 million, made up from government and industry, was gone farmers were going to be liable for 100% of the costs.

Down the track he was looking forward to a Commission of Inquiry into the M. bovis eradication programme so information on the process was put in the spotlight.

By then, he will have a bit to say.

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