Thursday, 02 May 2024 09:55

Helping farmers tackle TB

Written by  Janine Gray
Tess Appleby, 37, has spent the last four years supporting and helping farmers and landowners stay on top of NAIT and tackle bovine tuberculosis (TB). Tess Appleby, 37, has spent the last four years supporting and helping farmers and landowners stay on top of NAIT and tackle bovine tuberculosis (TB).

In the heart of New Zealand’s rural landscape, where the rhythms of farming life intertwine with the challenges of disease management, you’ll find Tess Appleby, 37, whose recent experiences have called for both dedication and resilience.

As a regional partner with OSPRI (animal disease management agency), Appleby has spent the last four years of her professional life supporting and helping farmers and landowners stay on top of NAIT and tackle bovine tuberculosis (TB). She actively engages with farmers, iwi, and industry stakeholders, advocating for targeted education, increased awareness, and helping to break the stigma associated with disease-affected farms. Her efforts align with OSPRI’s commitment to supporting farmers and implementing effective disease management strategies.

In 2023, Appleby’s personal resilience was tested when Cyclone Gabrielle swept through the Hawke’s Bay, leaving devastation in its wake, including the loss of her home that she had only just bought four weeks earlier. Despite her personal challenges, Appleby remained steadfast in her commitment to supporting the farming community during difficult times.

“OSPRI were incredible in giving me the space I needed to deal with the devastation,” Appleby says.

“But I also wanted to be there for the farming community. Hawke’s Bay is my turangawaewae and it was incredibly hard to see how the devastation had affected its people and the landscape.”

Later that year, Appleby’s professional journey took a significant turn when her manager, Helen Thoday, recommended she take part in the Kellogg’s Rural Leadership Programme.

“I always thought it would have been out of my reach because it seemed to be targeted at senior management level,” reflects Tess. “But then, Helen suggested I do the course and supported me to give it a go.”

For Helen, she saw Appleby as the perfect candidate for Kelloggs.

“Tess’s commitment to the TB story in the Hawke’s Bay is difficult to rival. She has experienced the impact of TB circulating in a community first hand and that experience is crucial in our recovery planning. I thought she’d get immense value from being part of a cohort which would help her gain a broader perspective of the agriculture industry, beyond her focus on the Hawke’s Bay.”

The six-month course provided Appleby with valuable insights and tools to delve into agriculture related topics, including her research project titled, “Eradicating Complacency in long term disease control”.

This project idea stemmed from her experiences during the Hawke’s Bay bovine TB outbreak in 2021-2022, a period that deeply impacted farmers in the region. Now that the disease was more under control compared to the outbreak in 2021, would farmers become too complacent if the disease was no longer prevalent in their area if it was no longer in their backyard?

A strong history of TB eradication in New Zealand has seen 1700 infected herds in 1995 down to less than 20 in 2024.

But the final push is now the most difficult and complex part of the journey. To achieve eradication, it’s important to access areas which tend to be difficult to reach, treacherous or steep, or there is a lack of owner consent to undertake pest control operations.

“My research aimed to review and analyse the current understanding of the ag industry’s knowledge and perception of bovine TB among farmers and industry professionals,” Appleby explains.

Through surveys, thematic analysis, interviews, and literature review, Appleby explored various aspects of disease management strategies and the human-centred approach to disease eradication.

Respondents were asked what they thought the industry needs to be doing to keep TB relevant with farmers, how important they thought eradicating TB from New Zealand was, if levies were increased to eradicate TB in herds and wildlife sooner, would this be supported and were there benefits as a farmer to be TBfree in New Zealand.

There was shared agreement among the respondents on the importance of education, transparency and ongoing support for the TBfree programme.

There was also agreement that complacency was an issue and there remained a gap between those who had experienced TB in their lifetime and those who hadn’t.

Regional Partners

Regional partners at OSPRI play a vital role in educating and liaising with farmers, industry groups, and other key stakeholders to raise awareness of OSPRI’s programmes (TBfree, NAIT and M. bovis) and current operations.

They also undertake field and project work, collaborate with colleagues in disease management and veterinary epidemiology, and communicate planned operations and activities with stakeholders and community groups. Additionally, they represent OSPRI at public forums and committee meetings, build relationships with key stakeholders, organise industry events, and participate in OSPRI Committees.

Overall, the regional partner plays a crucial role in engaging stakeholders, promoting understanding and compliance with OSPRI’s initiatives, and fostering partnerships to enhance impact and reach.

Education is Key

One significant aspect of the findings was the importance of storytelling in creating empathy and understanding among stakeholders.

“Sharing people-centered stories and case studies can complement technical information and foster a deeper understanding of disease management strategies,” Appleby explained.

To combat complacency, it is important to keep the stories of bovine TB and other animal diseases top of mind. In some areas of the country, for example, they haven’t had TB and so they don’t know what it’s like to experience such a disease.

Some of the areas of education were around the importance of highlighting traceability and its role in tracing TB infected animals. Another suggestion for mitigating the spread of TB through animal movements was to provide information about where stock comes from and what questions were helpful to ask when buying from high-risk areas.

Appleby’s project highlights the importance of collaboration and proactive measures in disease management and serves as a reminder of the continuous commitment needed to tackle agricultural diseases and safeguard animal health in rural New Zealand.

“We must tell a different story, one that inspires action and collaboration. By working together, we can achieve TB-free herds and wildlife, ensuring a healthier future for our farming communities.”

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