SA borders opened for flock rebuild

Final OJD barrier to fall in SA


Sheep
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The state's sheep industry has cautiously welcomed the lifting of the final ovine johnes disease trading barriers. From July 1 there will be no restrictions for SA producers buying interstate sheep.

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HEALTH CHECK: Merino SA president Nick Wadlow, Hallett, says a strong emphasis on producers accurately filling out their animal health paperwork is needed as interstate sheep trading rules are relaxed.

HEALTH CHECK: Merino SA president Nick Wadlow, Hallett, says a strong emphasis on producers accurately filling out their animal health paperwork is needed as interstate sheep trading rules are relaxed.

The state's sheep industry has cautiously welcomed the lifting of the final ovine johnes disease trading barriers, ending 20 years of regulatory control in SA.

The national OJD management plan ceased in July 2018 and at the same time SA, which has worked hard to maintain a low incidence of the disease, moved from regulation to a "buyer beware" approach.

RELATED:OJD and footrot management changes announced for SA flocks

Last week Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone announced the same approach to interstate trade.

Previously all sheep entering SA have had to be approved vaccinates (lambs vaccinated prior to 16 weeks of age) from low risk areas but from July 1 SA producers will be able to trade freely with interstate flocks.

PIRSA is recommending all sheep entering SA are vaccinated and says it is up to producers to check National Vendor Declaration and Sheep Animal Health Statements to avoid introducing the bacterial disease to their flocks.

Mr Whetstone says the rule changes will enable SA producers to more easily rebuild their flocks after the drought breaks.

"Without this reform, our local sheep and wool industry would be at a significant disadvantage to eastern states farmers who would be free to buy the cream of our flocks while SA farmers would have been shackled in trying to source from interstate," he said.

"Removing interstate movement restrictions will allow harmonisation with the national OJD program and will make sheep trade between states easier.

Stock Journal understands another major deciding factor was the diminished OJD surveillance in SA and inability to quantify accurately the level of infection in the state.

In April last year, the long-running mandatory abattoir screening at Thomas Foods International was replaced by a voluntary system where producers have to put in a request to PIRSA for abattoir monitoring.

PIRSA has confirmed this has had a low uptake.

Livestock SA president Joe Keynes says the decision will give local producers more restocking options, including WA where many areas are still in drought.

"Farmers are already good at managing financial or climatic risks in their business, disease risk is just another step in this." - Livestock SA president Joe Keynes

"We are aware that approved vaccinates and stock from areas with a low OJD risk prevalence will not only be in limited supply when seasonal conditions improve but will also increase in price," Mr Keynes said.

But, he says it will be up to producers to be vigilant to keep their flocks clean.

"Farmers are already good at managing financial or climatic risks in their business, disease risk is just another step in this," he said.

"It is not just OJD but footrot and lice too we need to look out for."

Mr Keynes says PIRSA's One Biosecurity program is a valuable tool to help farmers manage OJD into the future but acknowledged it was not receiving the grower traction he had hoped for.

Only 600 producers have signed up since the scheme was launched in August, which is well short of Livestock SA's target of 1000 producers by the end of the first year.

"It will keep building slowly but it needs a review and we need to look at possible enhancements,"he said.

RELATED: SA reaches crossroad on OJD

Ouyen, Vic, Merino breeder Kevin Crook said the trading change was a "common sense" decision.

"It is the way it always should have been," he said.

"We cannot eradicate lice and we can see it on sheep in the saleyards so we will never eradicate OJD which we can't (see) and takes years to show up," - Ouyen Merino breeder Kevin Crook

Four years ago he led the establishment of the north-west Vic biosecurity area, which enabled participating producers to continue trading into SA.

Mr Crook acknowledged OJD could be "quite devastating" in badly infected flocks but said the Gudair vaccine was highly effective at reducing the shedding of the disease.

"We cannot eradicate lice and we can see it on sheep in the saleyards so we will never eradicate OJD which we can't (see) and takes years to show up," he said.

"Vic tried 30 years ago to eradicate the disease without success and there is still a lot of ill feeling - we have the tools to manage it so we need to get on with it."

Pinkerton Palm Hamlyn & Steen director Robin Steen said it would "level the playing field" for SA producers.

"Ninety-nine per cent will do the right thing like they always do and run a closed flock or buy in stock of low risk but we are still battling to get some producers to fill out their paperwork correctly," he said.

"The good blokes will do it well but those that buy in anything will continue to spread it."

Some within the industry are questioning whether the millions of dollars of grower funds from the SA Sheep Industry Fund spent on quarantine, vaccination of infected flocks, abattoir monitoring and producer education was a good investment.

The SA Sheep Advisory Group, which advises the Minister on how the fund should be spent, was contacted by Stock Journal. Its chairman Ian Rowett said he had been requested by the Minister's office not to comment.

Stud breeders give support

Merino SA has given its "guarded support" to the decision but president Nick Wadlow, Hallett, says SA producers will have to be proactive knowing the health status of any interstate sheep they buy in.

He acknowledged it was not sustainable to continue spending more than $1m a year on control, especially when abattoir surveillance was no longer mandatory.

But he says SASAG should be commended for how it oversaw the program to reduce the rate of spread of OJD in SA.

Through the years Merino SA members have embraced biosecurity programs, with nearly all of them in the brucellosis accreditation program and many in the OJD Market Assurance Program. Mr Wadlow says these will be even more important after July 1.

He also fears that without regulation of OJD and footrot the rate of infection could spread far more rapidly.

"Many of our members are sceptical that a voluntary biosecurity program will be embraced by those producers who are out to make a quick dollar on high-risk animals with little regard for long-term effects on our state's outstanding low disease risk," he said.

"Voluntary biosecurity programs without direct financial incentive have a very poor record in agriculture."

OJD and footrot remain notifiable diseases in SA.

Details: pir.sa.gov.au/biosecurity/animal_health/sheep

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