'We'd be better off if we had it'

Southland farmer John Young reckons he would be in a better position if his cattle had Mycoplasma bovis.

With a contract for 1000 calves cancelled by Ngai Tahu Farming, he described himself as a ''by-product'' of the disease saying there was no recognition for those in similar situations.

Left short of feed and likely to take a massive financial hit, he was perplexed by the iwi's motivation as he felt he had done everything to mitigate any concerns.

''We'd be better off if we had it. We would know where we're at [and could] set a plan and work around it. It would be acknowledged we had it, we'd be compensated. The way we are at the moment, we don't know where we stand,'' he said.

John Young has been left out of pocket after Ngai Tahu pulled out of a large calf contract. Photo: Gregor Richardson
John Young has been left out of pocket after Ngai Tahu pulled out of a large calf contract. Photo: Gregor Richardson

Mr Young and his wife, Jo, have a dairy farm near Browns and a run-off block in Northern Southland. For the second year, they had a contract to deliver bull calves to Ngai Tahu.

The contract, signed in August, was for 1000 calves delivered from March 1 to May 31 with a price of $3kg liveweight. In March, the calves were not quite ready and Mr Young suggested waiting until mid-to-late April.

An agent took what they thought was the proactive approach of drawing up a declaration stating, to the best of their knowledge, none of the cattle had been purchased, grazed or had any physical contact with cattle from any property confirmed to be Mycoplasma bovis positive, or placed under restrictions.

At the end of April, Ngai Tahu said it had a few questions and was reassured the agents had procured them directly from farmers they knew and farmers who bred them. Ngai Tahu also wanted a National Animal Identification and Tracing file of all animals which Mr Young supplied.

Mr Young also approached the Ministry for Primary Industries which said it was ''fine'' and if they had any tie-ups with farms known to be infected, they would have been shut down and unable to trade stock.

Ngai Tahu said the calves would be going to a block away from other stock, to eliminate any risk from the rest of its business and Mr Young took that as ''quite positive'' - that it was mitigating its risks and was still keen to continue with the deal.

But earlier this month, he was told Ngai Tahu did not want to proceed because a clause in the contract said the cattle should be in good health and free from injury or disease, and its lawyer did not believe they could prove the stock were free of disease.

Mr Young said the calves were fit and healthy and they had done their due diligence to ensure they did not have any risks or links to Mycoplasma bovis.

If Ngai Tahu did not want to proceed with the purchase, then he expected it to make up the difference to what they would get for the stock now on the open market.

Stock of that nature had ''taken quite a hiding lately'' and the likely price now was about $2.40 and, at that level, it would barely cover what the couple paid for them.

Ngai Tahu offered $10,000 as settlement but that would barely cover legal costs. The calculation they were working on was about $150,000, he said.

Meanwhile, they had run out of feed, having never expected to have the calves so long. They had to buy in palm kernel and had also eaten into a large amount of winter feed, while prices for feed had ''gone through the roof''.

''Everything was positive all the way up to it.

''If they had told us a month ago, they would have been sold at decent money. We've asked what else we need to do, they haven't been forthcoming,'' he said.

It had got to the stage couple could not afford to keep the cattle and would have to quit them - at a much reduced price - and he hoped to have half away this week. Ngai Tahu did not respond to calls or emails from the Otago Daily Times this week seeking comment.


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