It’s time farm­ing lead­ers stepped up to

Irish Independent - Farming - - FINANCE FARMING - DAR­RAGH McCUL­LOUGH

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

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