First farmers to report Mycoplasma bovis now living in caravan in Australia

Sharemilkers who ran the south Canterbury farm where Mycoplasma bovis was first discovered are now living in a caravan in Australia, after losing everything when the cows were culled.

They say they were promised compensation but went out of business before it came.

Until last year, Mary and Sarel Potgieter were sharemilkers on the Tainui farm in Morven.

Everything was in place for a bumper season, but by December it would all be gone. Mycoplasma bovis has cost them everything, and they say the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is to blame.

"Mycoplasma and MPI has ruined our life, our whole livelihood, our business," says Mr Potgieter.

The couple has had to relocate to the small town of Sale, Australia, where they're living off a credit card, looking for work and forced to start all over again.

"I miss my friends and I miss my neighbours," says Mrs Potgieter. "I miss New Zealand. But what can I do? There's no jobs there."

They were the first to discover M bovis, on a farm owed by the Van Leeuwen group.

For months, they begged to be allowed to manage the outbreak. But all 1200 were culled in December, including 900 healthy cows.

"When you're putting healthy cows on the truck, and calm cows and beautiful cows, what's the reason for that?" says Mr Potgieter. "It's bloody ridiculous."

Soon their business died as well.

As sharemilkers, they supplied staff and equipment while the Van Leeuwen Group owned the land and cows.

With nothing to milk, their contract was cancelled.

"Bad payout you can change things, you can cut everything," says Mr Potgieter. "This thing was MPI came, took our cows, no one had a say."

Mrs Potgieter says she finds herself wishing she'd never reported the disease.

"If I could have it over again, I wouldn't have allowed MPI near my farm."

MPI Biosecurity Response Director Geoff Gwyn says the Ministry had little choice.

"I lose sleep over the fact there are people out there suffering as a result of the actions we're putting on, and I know it's cold comfort for them, but they are taking a hit for the national herd."

According to the Biosecurity Act, farmers should be left "no better or worse" when stock is eradicated by MPI.

The Potgeiters are $160,000 in debt and have lost $170,000 in income, but their compensation claims have gone unmet.

"They said to us, 'Work with us, you won't be better or worse off'. We trusted them," Ms Potgeiter said.

MPI says claims for loss of income are complicated, and they don't know if any have been paid so far.

But Mr Gwyn admits it's taking too long.

"I'm acutely aware of Mary and Sarel's position, and I know it's a difficult one, and those claims haven't progressed fast enough. I take accountability for that."

It's too little, too late for the Potgieters, who have gone from 450 hectares to a four-metre trailer in the last few months.