Short-term pain will mean gain

Dave Harrison.
Dave Harrison.
Two years on, beef farmers are facing a levy almost five times what they agreed to as their share of the Mycoplasma bovis eradication programme.

Following the current round of consultation with sheep and beef farmers, Beef+Lamb New Zealand expects the levy to ratchet from the original 45c per head to as much as $2 per head of cattle.

BLNZ general manager of policy and advocacy Dave Harrison confirmed that the revised levy on cattle would be struck at around the $1.80 per head level from late 2019 and would be invoiced until 2023.

This would push the BLNZ levy to $7 per head for cattle, 10 times the industry levy per sheep, which would remain at 70c per head.

Of the eradication costs of around $870million over the next 10 years, the dairy sector will need to pick up $262million and the beef sector has been allocated $17.4million.

About 77% of beef farmers had supported the original 2017 proposal of 45c per head, though that would have translated to a 25-year pay back period.

Dairy farmers, for their part, are facing a tougher two years, with an additional levy of 3.9c per kilogram of milksolids (kgMS) on the cards, effectively more than doubling the regular 3.6/kgMS levy collected by DairyNZ on behalf of MPI. This translates to around $6100 per year for an average farm milking 430 cows.

DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle has said the expectation was the levy would be substantially reduced thereafter, though that presumes no other biosecurity responses are required in the meantime.

Otago and Southland beef farmers spoken to were pragmatic about the cost of the levy.

''We accept we've all got an interest in eradicating M. bovis, though it's tougher for those outside affected areas. We are used to paying levies, including the Tb slaughter levy, so I'd generally support the proposed increase in the context of a $1000 to $1500 animal,'' Waitahuna sheep and beef farmer Simon McAtamney said.

Federated Farmers meat and wool chairman Miles Anderson said M. bovis was not something beef and dairy farmers wanted to live with.

''Taxpayers are funding the majority of the response and compensation costs, with farmers also paying an additional sizeable portion. It shows we are willing to be a part of the solution.

''Finances on farms are tight at the best of times, with all the compliance and regulatory costs we're hit with, but we simply have to help shoulder the costs of the eradication campaign. The alternative was doing nothing and the ultimate costs of taking that path would have been horrendous.

''By having levy bodies involved, farmers have the right to hold them to account for their part in the process.''

In terms of the BLNZ proposal, the maximum levy payable under the Biosecurity Act would increase to $2 a head, although different levy rates would be set for different classes of cattle and there is also a proposal to raise the maximum amount payable under the Government Industry Agreement (GIA) on biosecurity to $5million annually.

Richard Hore, of Beaumont Station, near Millers Flat, said while he had not kept up with the process, there were general concerns around non-commercial costs.

''Levies tend to be a grudge payment, for which we have historically got little value, so the main thing is to ensure the higher levy is here to stay once M. bovis is eradicated.''

Mr Harrison suggested that would not be the case.

''As we fall from intensive eradication to surveillance, the costs of the M. bovis eradication programme will reduce, falling to around 70c per head from 2023 and 20c per head for remaining period.''

''Farmers are generally a resilient bunch and we try to work together as a community to support each other when times are tough. Together, we'll get through this,'' Mr Anderson said.

The BLNZ consultation closes on Friday.

-By Brent Melville

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