Ireland is in the midst of fodder crisis which is having an ongoing effect on the health of dairy cows. This year cattle are being housed for longer than normal, with fodder being rationed, and an increased usage of concentrate feed. When combined with the atrocious weather, production has really taken a hit. This has lead to calls from farmer groups for processors to hold their milk prices in order to prevent further pressure on producers.
The Irish government is also coming under pressure not only to act now and address the shortages, but also to prevent a recurrence in the future. As a result of these circumstances there has been a sizeable detrimental effect on rural livelihoods. The impact of such a poor spring could last well into the rest of the year with effects on both cow condition and fertility, as well as on farmer stress and wellbeing.
Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis) has had a devastating effect on the mood of the dairy industry in New Zealand. An outbreak with an unidentified source has led to a cull on 28 farms, resulting in more than 22,000 cattle deaths. The disease is affecting the health of dairy animals, and is highly contagious, but currently is not thought to have a food safety risk. However, both milking and the raising of offspring, can increase the disease risk as the pathogen is usually transmitted by sustained, close contact.
Reporting in the New Zealand media has highlighted the uncertainty about how the disease entered the country, and how it spread so easily. This has called into question the effectiveness of their animal registration system (NAIT), and national biosecurity. In addition, some debate also continues about the effect of housed versus outdoor systems on the spread of M. bovis. There has also been a 11% decrease in New Zealand farm sales in the March quarter compared to previous years, with a reduced number of dairy farm sales accounting for this, perhaps due to the uncertainty caused by the M. bovis outbreak. To our mind, this highlights the importance of digital animal health records allowing real-time access data, and effect exchange of records.
Steps have recently been put into place to tackle unfair trading in the dairy industry. This will be essential in ensuring continued farm viability by allowing farmers to invest in the health and wellbeing of their animals. Phil Hogan, EU commissioner for agriculture and rural affairs, launched a proposal for a directive on unfair trading practices. This has highlighted the farmers’ often vulnerable position in the supply chain.
The aim of the proposal is to ensure suppliers from small to medium size business will be protected against larger corporations who hold the power in business negotiations. This should allow for fairer trade, as well as introduce more transparency in the market, and promote a more balanced supply chain. Hopefully this will prove a huge opportunity for the UK dairy sector as a whole, but in particular will reduce the price pressure facing producers.