PRODUCERS and stock agents have welcomed the restriction of weekly Naracoorte and Mount Gambier sales to terminal sheep only from tomorrow – with no inspections for footrot by Department of Primary Industries and Regions’ staff.
PIRSA said the changes have been endorsed by the department, Livestock SA and stock agents, and will mean the markets at Naracoorte and Mount Gambier will be open only to sheep and lambs being purchased for slaughter, feed-lotting or finishing prior to sale to slaughter.
The changes are being implemented only in the south-east saleyards in time for the 2023/24 Spring lamb season, and follow concerns that PIRSA’s rigours footrot control program was forcing producers to send stock for sale in Victorian markets.
Existing PIRSA surveillance arrangements at off-shears and breeder sales in south-east South Australia will remain in place. Existing arrangements will also remain the same at all other sheep markets across the state.
However, footrot remains a notifiable disease in South Australia under the Livestock Act and any sheep presented for sale at the south-east terminal markets with clinically virulent footrot will still need to be reported to PIRSA, PIRSA said.
The Naracoorte and Mt Gambier sale changes have been made as a broader external review of the the state’s footrot program is conducted, jointly funded by PIRSA and the Sheep Industry Fund.
The external review, being conducted by Livestock SA over the next few months, will include identification of areas of improvement with the current Footrot Program and to assess alternative footrot management models.
PIRSA today said its inspectors will still attend the terminal sheep only south-east weekly markets, focusing on movement documentation, sheep health declaration and identification audits, but they will not be inspecting these sheep for footrot.
Signage and other communications will be in place at the Naracoorte and Mount Gambier saleyards to assist purchasers’ understanding of the surveillance changes, and to provide advice on managing and minimising disease risks with any potential purchase, PIRSA said.
Immediate past chairman of the Naracoorte Combined Agents Josh Reeves welcomed the changes and said agents were also seeking similar footrot management rules to Victoria and New South Wales.
“Our state’s (footrot) standards and regulations have been fairly rigorous for quite a while, and the conditions in the south-east (of SA) are very similar to Victoria and New South Wales.
“We want to get on the same page in terms of how we do things and conduct business under the same rules,” he said.
Mr Reeves said he would like to the implementation of national footrot management rules.
Immediate past chairman of the Mt Gambier Combined Agents Ben Jones also supported the changes and said saleyards had lost thousands of sheep and lambs to Victorian saleyards over the issue.
“Probably the biggest impact has been over the past 16-18 months.”
He expected the changes would stay in place into January and possibly February next year at Mt Gambier.
Livestock SA chief executive officer Travis Tobin said effective endemic disease management is critical to ensuring the South Australian sheep industry can reach the goal of becoming a $3 billion industry by 2030.
“While inspection changes will be in place this selling season, Livestock SA encourages producers to continue employing best management biosecurity practices around footrot, including when making purchasing decisions and introducing sheep on farm.
“Livestock producers currently invest over $900,000 into the Footrot Management Program each year,” he said.
“The review work we are undertaking on behalf of industry will determine the best way forward for the program, its activities and the level of industry investment required.
“Through the review, a decision-making framework that can be used to assess other programs will be developed to enable an objective and consistent approach to all endemic disease management investment.”
South Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Mary Carr, said footrot is a complex disease with many livestock industry stakeholders potentially affected by its impact.
“Current estimates of virulent and benign footrot are estimated to cost the Australian sheep industry $82.2 million a year through production losses and disease control costs.
“Therefore, effective management of the disease is of vital importance to industry and why the industry funded Footrot Program needs to be fit for purpose,” she said.
“Implementing the interim arrangements in south-east saleyards for the 2023-24 Spring lamb season along with the broader external review of the program, provides an opportunity for PIRSA, working with Livestock SA and industry to ensure this important program remains effective, balancing the impacts to industry while also minimising the risk of disease spread.”
A final report from the broader external review into the Footrot program is expected to be provided to the State Government and Livestock SA in early 2024. Any proposed new statewide footrot management program to emerge from its findings is expected to be in place, after further industry consultation, by 1 July 2024.