OSPRI: Another step on the journey

William McCook.Smart data use, more efficient and better collection of information and improved customer service for farmers are all promised by the new single organisation OSPRI NZ, which brought together the Animal Health Board (AHB)’s TBfree New Zealand and the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) programmes in July. Deer Industry News visited Chief Executive William McCook in Wellington to find out what’s been happening and what’s ahead.

Really it’s a step along a continuous journey for biosecurity and pest management, says William McCook, the former AHB head who was appointed to his new role in November last year.

The journey started with the establishment of the AHB in 1996 and its TBfree New Zealand programme as part of the Government’s National Pest Management Plan (NPMP) to control bovine tuberculosis (TB). This is a disease which infects deer and cattle and can be passed on to the human population.

The next step was the introduction of the NAIT programme in 2009 after meat and dairy producers and processors recognised the need for a national traceability system. This came after major outbreaks of animal disease overseas – bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and foot and mouth disease (FMD), for example – which resulted in calls from major customers for traceable products. Deer farmers joined cattle producers in the programme on 1 March this year.

The success of the programmes has resulted in increased funding and confidence and has seen new success, according to McCook. This led to the third and most recent step along the way: the merger of the two organisations, AHB and NAIT.

Initially this was done with cost-savings and avoidance of duplication in mind, he explains. “However, over time, it was realised there are, potentially, other benefits that can be achieved for the wider primary industries.”

Over the past year, he has been spearheading the development of a new governance structure and strategic direction for the new organisation, bringing together the goodwill – and financial backing – from government through the Ministry for Primary Industries and the industry stakeholders DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb NZ and Deer Industry New Zealand.

The important work carried out by the TBfree New Zealand and NAIT programmes, both now wholly owned by OSPRI, will continue but the new organisation potentially offers an opportunity to use the data from the two programmes in a way that adds value for the wider primary industries and New Zealand’s exports. These could include world-leading approaches to biosecurity and pest management, making best use of information technology and data and enhancing government and industry collaboration.

OSPRI’s five point plan

As chairman Jeff Grant said at the time of the merger announcement, the OSPRI name reflected the organisation’s intentions to provide Operational Solutions for New Zealand’s PRimary Industries.

OSPRI’s five strategic priorities include developing creative operational solutions. The emphasis is on ‘operational’, explains McCook – what the government/industry partnership decides is required – and not trade policy or lobbying.

The second priority revolves around smart data – the  RFID tagging technology used in the NAIT scheme, the collection of data from both programmes, geo-spatial data and statistical analysis among others and involves a core team of eight to 10 IT specialists, most of whom are based at head office.

OSPRI organisation structureThirdly – better organisational capability – springs from being a single organisation, he says. All of the TBfree New Zealand and NAIT staff have now been brought into the one organisation working from a single head office in Wellington. Of the total 140 people working for the organisation, about 80 (57 per cent) are working in the regions. A further 60 work at the Wellington national office.

Better customer service for the users – the farmers – is another key point, along with working better with OSPRI’s other business partners.

Finally, continuous improvement and delivery of existing core programmes remains a  major priority.

“It’s a step-change for staff but all are proud of the work they’ve been doing and what’s happening,” he says, adding that there’s a new set of opportunities for the team ahead.

“Right now, we’re just looking forward to those priorities,” he says.

TBfree: reducing TB-testing and moving to a risk-based approach

Forward plans affecting the deer industry in the TBfree New Zealand programme include reducing TB-testing requirements and taking a more risk-based approach for deer. This has led on from relatively low numbers of infected deer herds.

He recommends deer farmers keep up to date with the Movement Control Areas (MCAs), make sure you comply with any testing requirements and if you’re buying stock, “be wary of where they’ve come from.

“It’s important to note that TB testing is not a perfect science,” he warns. This is because, as in humans, TB can lie dormant in an animal for several years, only appearing when the animal has been stressed.

NAIT: compliance and enforcement ahead

For NAIT, he says that generally deer farmers have “a very good understanding of what is required.”

While the focus in that programme has been on education to date, NAIT will move to compliance and enforcement by the end of this year. If you’re unsure what is required, ask for help. You can call NAIT on 0800 624 843 or take a look at the website www.nait.org.nz

Overall, William praises the deer industry for its uptake in both schemes. He has found the sector to be “proactive, organised and, because of its size, it also has the ability to be quite nimble.”

He encourages deer farmers to continue to participate fully in both schemes. “There are good benefits to industry from the recording of data that can be used to improve sector productivity and safeguard wider primary industry biosecurity, while the tags themselves can work well in terms of on-farm productivity.”

You can find out more at www.ospri.co.nz, www.tbfree.org.nz, www.nait.co.nz.

This article appeared in Deer Industry News (October/November 2013) and is published here with permission.

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