It’s time farming leaders stepped up to
CORK VET Bill Cashman has been singing from the rooftops about many of the biosecurity risks that have come to pass over the last few decades, and Johne’s is one of them.
There is a body of scientific studies pointing to a link between Johne’s and a similar disease that affects humans called Crohn’s.
He has strong views on the dairy industry’s approach to Johne’s disease, which is estimated to be present in one in five dairy and beef herds in the country.
I like to think of Bill as the canary in the mine that is the dairy sector. Some people find canaries very irritating. I beg to differ.
Despite the news in recent weeks that a new national programme has been launched to tackle Johne’s, Mr Cashman believes the effort is delivering an assurance scheme that gives marketeers something to present on global markets when they are selling Irish products.
That’s strong stuff from a man who has spent the best part of a decade being part of the technical working group that was tasked to come up with a way to tackle Johne’s. In other words, this man has tried hard to be part of the solution.
“There is only room for 1,800 dairy herds in this programme, which is barely 10pc of the total in the dairy industry,” he told me.
“There’s no way you can claim that it’s a national programme. The hope is to get up to 4,000 herds involved over the next five years, but in the meantime, Johne’s disease is working away and spreading 24 hours a day.”
There are two main stumbling blocks to making this scheme more ambitious.
The first is money. The umbrella group representing Irish dairy co-ops, ICOS, is providing €600,000 towards the annual cost. The Department of Agriculture is coughing up another €500,000.
Teagasc’s economic unit estimates that it would cost somewhere between €13-15m a year to roll out a scheme that catered for all dairy herds. In other words, the amount of money on the table is ridiculously insufficient.
The second blockage is the political. Farm organisations have traditionally been very negative towards the implementation of disease control programmes. The BVD scheme was a case in point, where the IFA, ICMSA and ICSA all took pot-shots at the scheme over what they perceived to be the hardship it caused farmers.
To me this is akin to Trump-tactic politics where you appeal to the lowest common denominator regardless of the big picture.
It is a sure-fire way of maximising votes while at the same time jettisoning real leadership. This kind of populist politics has disastrous long-term consequences for those that are being led.
The facts are that the elimination of diseases like BVD or Johne’s puts more money in a farmer’s pocket.
Sure, if you don’t plan to be part of the industry in 10 years’ time, there’s no big incentive to take the shortterm pain for the long-term gains.
But the eradication of BVD will leave dairy farmers at least €100m a year better off through better thrive in their stock.
Over 90pc of farmers that have participated in Johne’s pilot programmes have seen similar benefits in terms of improvements in calf health and a significant reduction in antibiotic use on farm.
Why don’t we have real farming leaders stepping up to champion this approach? Better still, why don’t we have any of the highly paid executives in charge of our many dairy processors driving this national issue?
The notion that they could only justify €600k to safeguard the future of the multi-billion euro business that they are charged with managing is, in my opinion, unforgivable.
What are they waiting for? We all remember the impact