Battling the BJD debacle

QDAFF have bitten off more than they could chew by agreeing to a national policy to eradicate BJD

IMAGINE this. You find yourself alone and sitting quietly in a vacated ministerial office, in fact the workstation for the Queensland Minister for Agriculture.

As you look at the week-old dust lightly blanketing the main desk, you hear muffled voices and knocking. You follow the sounds to the corner of the room where you find a dusty old chest covered in junk.

With an open hand you swipe reels of red tape off the chest and the voices get louder. The chest is labelled “Bovine Johne’s Disease”. You open the latch and lift the lid, to find a young Ashley Kirk, his family and a host of other producers have been locked away.

It's no surprise this group of people are keen to see some fresh political faces in charge this week as a Queensland government emerges from the rubble.

Ashley and his family have a red Brahman stud in Central Queensland where they’ve been working on their bloodlines for 60 years.

But in August 2012 Ashley noticed some issues with a few of his cows. “They should have been in better condition in relation to the other cows and calves," he said. "So after exhausting all options we slaughtered one and submitted tests - Bovine Johnes Disease (BJD) never came into our minds. But on October 26, 2012 it was confirmed as BJD.”

Rockley Stud and the Kirks have been at the epicentre of the BJD catastrophe. The State government have had them quarantined since 2012.

Sickness grew in the stomachs of Ashley and his father Chris at the news, and as the shock wore down they hit the phones, alerting the hundreds of producers who had bought their bulls. What a sad experience it must have been.

“It was made clear to us that both AgForce and Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (QDAFF) preferred we remained silent, this has been evident in their communications from day one” Ashley said.

“But we decided in an act of decency it was best to get on the front foot and to alert our clients. We also typed up a letter and sent it out.” To date their biggest supporters have been their clients and the media. Organisations like those mentioned above seem fixated on the appearance of a ‘clean and green’ image.

“At first we thought QDAFF knew what they we’re doing, they seemed organised, measured and it was all for the greater good of the industry. We were so wrong.” Ashley said.

It seems that QDAFF have bitten off more than they could chew by agreeing to a national policy to eradicate BJD. Now they’re choking on it with draconian policy and a team that lacks efficacy. And they're not helped by a Minister who’s been hamstrung by his own department’s incompetence but insistent on painting a pretty picture to trade partners that there’s nothing for them to worry about in sunny Queensland.

“We’re hoping with a fresh government some changes take place to see the department actually manage the situation, not by just labelling Queensland ‘controlled’ and thinking that’s the end of it.”

Ultimately these producers want one of two outcomes.

Either to be properly compensated for being wrapped in red tape, held ransom to policy made on the run and banned from stud sales. Or preferably, like Victorian producers, allowed to self-manage the disease. Producers are already allowed to self-manage other diseases and want to see a realistic policy support them to proactively manage BJD which leaves them operational and rewarded, not destroyed.

There is no doubt about it, the self-inflicted disjointed nature and internal quibbling of Australian agriculture continues to be its own hobble chains, always keeping itself from greatness. The dog's breakfast that is the Queensland BJD response is another fine example. Whilst fighting a stigma that mutes most involved, States and associations fight over BJD and never agree, which only amplifies the problem.

Ashley jokingly tells me he thought he had BJD himself at one stage, as the emotional and financial stress took it’s toll and saw him waste away for some months. “But we’re a strong family and pulled it together. We got stuck into what we could and navigated through the worst,” he said.

It seems the hunger and determination to overcome the most obscure obstacles are safely engrained in the rising generation of Australian farmers.

This is evidenced by the news Ashley and family will re-open the front gate next year after managing their way as best they can in uncharted waters to produce a line of bulls for a stud sale that meet BJD requirements.

Sam Trethewey

Sam Trethewey

grew up farming down south and now commentates on agriculture across Australia
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


12/02/2015 7:31:39 AM

Drought kills more cattle than BJD. But I don't see that as a reason for not taking control steps on BJD.
10/02/2015 4:56:17 PM

Hey, Frank, I believe there is a taste difference between marbled Angus beef and Brahman beef. There is also tenderness difference. You may not notice any difference between Hereford and Brahman beef.
10/02/2015 3:36:17 PM

Frank and Jacky should not comment on topics they know nothing about ! The Kirks have had five sick animals in 30 years of infection in a 2500 head herd and now have a loss of $1.2M per year because of quarantine. Three-day sickness kills far more! Frank, all our trading partners have BJD so who is going to use it as a trade barrier? I would never wish BJD quarantine on anyone but maybe it is the only way some people will fully understand the unfairness of it all. Frank and Jacky, if you have cattle please offer them up to QDAFF for BJD testing! We will see how serious you are then ?
10/02/2015 12:55:27 PM

Jacky has it right, it is all about perception. Coles markets beef as HGP free, even though there is no evidence HGP beef is unhealthy. McDonald's markets an angus burger, even though there is no evidence Angus beef is tastier then say Brahman beef.. Competitors to Queensland beef would happily use BJD disease as an edge to sell their beef.. It makes no difference to the truth, the truth always plays second fiddle to perception...
10/02/2015 12:05:55 PM

Jacky, when you receive that phone call, I can only assume, from what you have said, that you will be quite happy for your business to be driven to the edge, if not beyond, of bankruptcy, with bugger-all compensation, all for a disease, which in extreme cases, causes less economic damage than a dry spell. You do not understand the FULL ramifications until you are personally affected.
10/02/2015 11:24:34 AM

Makka, my emotions may change, sure, but the logic does not. Do you want the rest of us to have BJD establish on our properties? The producer above points out the affected cattle were not 'doing' - do you think the rest of us want that in our herds?
10/02/2015 10:52:01 AM

Jacky, how wrong you are! How do you know 99% of Qld producers don't have BJD, there has been very little surveillance of the disease. I think you should offer up your herd for testing! Why would it be fair to destroy someone else's business so you can get a phantom premium for your cattle? Too much self interest in the cattle industry! Bugger you Jack I'm all right attitude.
10/02/2015 10:47:54 AM

Jacky, when you receive the phone call that informs you that the property you purchased a bull off 5 yrs ago has just had a positive test for BJD, I believe you may change your current views on this disease.
10/02/2015 9:56:18 AM

Sam, emotion cannot be used to replace logic (except on your wife’s birthday). You know that 99% of Qld producers don’t have BJD - why should they get it or run the risk of being locked out of markets because < 1% of Qld producers have it? The hotter drier climate in Qld means it is easier to eradicate than down south – where you come from…...
Get MuddyTo think clearly in farming and about farming, you need to get muddy - commit, roll up your sleeves and get involved. SAM TRETHEWEY gets stuck into some of the issues facing those on the land.


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