Vet who discovered M bovis in New Zealand scoops top industry award

The rural vet credited for the discovery of the first case of cattle disease M Bovis in New Zealand has been recognised for her work with a top industry award.

Dr Merlyn Hay took out Outstanding Contribution to the Primary Industries Award last night at a gala event in Wellington.

The award was presented in front of more than 300 farmers, foresters, fishers and industry body representatives at the inaugural Primary Industries Summit dinner.

An awards judge said of Merlyn Hay's work: "I've always found rural vets willing to go the extra mile but the actions of Dr Hay have given that a whole new meaning. She didn't have to do what she did but the country is better for it."

Outstanding Contribution to Primary Industries 2019 winner Dr Merlyn Hay and her husband Andrew Dickson, with Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor, and Federated Farmers President Katie Milne.
Outstanding Contribution to Primary Industries 2019 winner Dr Merlyn Hay and her husband Andrew Dickson, with Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor, and Federated Farmers President Katie Milne. Photo credit: Supplied

The Oamaru vet was not satisfied that she had found the root cause of the unusual and distressing symptoms she was observing in cows and calves on a South Canterbury property and left no stone unturned until the cause was diagnosed.

Dr Hay's nominator said that the fact M Bovis had previously not been found in New Zealand and was not among the high profile diseases that vets are expected to keep an eye out for - such as foot and mouth disease - made Dr Hay's work even more remarkable.

"While it was later discovered that M Bovis had entered New Zealand as much as 18 months earlier there is no doubt that Dr Hay's detection in July 2017 has meant that we have a good chance of eradicating the disease," the nominator said.

"If Dr Hay had not been so tenuous and vigilant and it had been months or years later before M Bovis was first detected it is highly likely we would just had to live with the disease as farmers in other countries do." 

"Arguably, Dr Hay has saved the New Zealand primary sector millions of dollars and potentially enabled our country to achieve something no other country has managed - to rid itself of this disease."

Other awards included: 

Team Award - Beef & Lamb for the Taste Pure Nature Project:

Beef & Lamb's Taste Pure Nature campaign to better tell the story of New Zealand-produced red meat in key export markets, particularly the USA, has been hailed as having huge impact despite the team having a fraction of the budget of international competitors.

Science and Research Award - Lincoln University for its Cleartech Project:

Lincoln University's ClearTech is about helping dairy farmers manage effluent in a more sustainable manner. ClearTech uses a coagulant to bind effluent particles together so they can be settled out from water, reducing the risk of Phosphorus getting into waterways via runoff or drains. 

Chief Executive Award - Greg Campbell, Ravensdown:

Since starting as Ravensdown CEO in 2013, Greg Campbell has led the co-operative's transformation from a predominantly "fertiliser company" to the "farm nutrient and environmental experts". His nominators said he has championed sustainability at every level, has changed the culture on health and safety so that every employee knows how much it matters and under his leadership the company has paid back a third of a billion dollars in debt and today enjoys record-breaking total equity.

Innovation & Collaboration Award - Agricom, for its Green Pastures project:

Agricom's Ecotain environmental plantain project brought together a diverse group of people from across PGG Wrightson Seeds. A worthy winner of the Innovation and Collaboration Award, the outcome of this team effort has been the development of Ecotain environmental plantain, a forage for animals that significantly reduces nitrogen leaching from the urine patch. The result is a product that can help solve one of New Zealand agriculture's greatest challenges.