The maximum financial assistance available to cattle producers affected by the Bovine Johne’s Disease (BJD) control program in Queensland will be doubled following a funding review.
Queensland agriculture minister John McVeigh has announced he will act on the advice of the BJD Industry Advisory Committee, which met just before Christmas, and will recommend that the current $50,000 assistance cap be doubled to $100,000 for eligible cattle property owners.
Producers who have bought cattle from properties where BJD has been detected have faced heavy costs and disruptions to their business under Queensland’s policy of maintaining its Protected Zone status.
Many have had to buy-in feed to hold droughted cattle that cannot be moved because of quarantine movement restrictions, while most have also had to slaughter valuable bulls and other cattle considered at risk of possible infection.
Some of the more than 100 producers who have been caught up in the quarantine process since the cattle wasting disease was detected on Central Queensland cattle stud Rockley in November 2012 have described losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and even millions, and have expressed frustration that individual assistance has been capped at $50,000.
In a statement released to media, Mr McVeigh said the move to double the assistance available to individual producers would make the State’s scheme the most generous in Australia.
"I understand some concerns have been raised within industry about the progress of potential changes to assistance funding for BJD impacted producers,” Mr McVeigh said.
"While it is important that assistance to affected producers is maximised, it is essential that existing funds can continue to support those producers eligible for assistance under the regulations for the life of the scheme (until 30 June, 2014).
"As the raising of this cap will require a regulatory amendment, I expect this change will come into effect toward the end of January."
Mr McVeigh has often emphasised the point that available Government funding was never intended to serve as full compensation but rather as assistance to support affected producers.
However comments following the Rockley detection by the Minister and deputy premier Jeff Seeney that no individual producer should bear the cost of protecting the broader industry from BJD have also underpinned an expectation that affected producers should be fully recompensed for all costs they incur to help Queensland maintain its Protected Zone status.
Drought delays cost-benefit analysis release
More broadly industry continues to await the release of a cost benefit analysis of different BJD management scenarios instigated last year by Mr McVeigh.
The analysis focused on comparing the economic cost of maintaining Queensland as a Protected Zone versus the economic cost of deregulating the disease and allowing it to be managed by individual producers at farm level with vaccinations.
The Minister’s office has told Beef Central that the department has yet to finalise the analysis because resources have been diverted to the worsening drought crisis in Queensland.
After the failure of the northern wet season last summer, many Queensland producers are now facing an even deeper crisis as another hot summer rolls on without delivering the rain droughted paddocks desperately need.
“The analysis hasn’t been finished, not because it is requiring more work, but because a lot of the staff have moved over to drought which is our priority at the moment,” a spokesperson said.
He said the minister’s office was hearing many stories about the desperate nature of the feed and water situation across large parts of the state, with many producers now running out of molasses and other protein options, and being forced to shoot large numbers of cattle as a last resort.
The minister is expected to visit some of the hardest hit areas of the state within the next week.
“Things are getting very tough around the Julia Creek and in the north west again, so that is where our focus is at the moment and we just don’t have the BJD analysis ready.”
The Queensland Government maintains industry is responsible for setting the direction of BJD policy in Queensland, and says it has been continually instructed by the leaders of AgForce and other major cattle groups that the State must maintain its BJD protected status to ensure long-term access to important export markets.
Some live export markets including Indonesia will only import cattle from properties known to have had freedom from BJD for at least five years (although BJD is endemic in many of the countries that impose this rule, suggesting their motivations are trade-based), while Japan, a major market for beef and also for high-value live export cattle, is cited as another country with high sensitivity to BJD, however it currently imposes no restrictions on beef imports based on BJD.
While major producer and breed representative groups have united behind the current policy, support for the control and eradication approach is far from universal at producer level. Opponents say it imposes too heavy a burden on affected properties for a disease of relatively low impact to herd health and productivity, and should be managed on farms with vaccinations as are other diseases with more serious herd health impacts such as Pestivirus and Leptospirosis.