Offer farmers a financial incentive to tackle Johne’s disease

The UK dairy industry should consider money as an “economic engine” to lower infection rates of Johne’s disease, a leading US professor has claimed.

In the UK it is estimated one-third of dairy herds have a significant infection of Johne’s, NMR data from September 2012 shows.

Yet few farmers are proactive about the disease unless they see an economic benefit to lowering Johne’s infection on farm.

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Speaking at a Johne’s conference, jointly organised by Dairy UK and DairyCo at Sixways Stadium, Worcester, Michael Collins, from the University of Wisconsin, said offering farmers money could help change this.

“You don’t need a PhD to understand what motivates producers. Money motivates producers.”

Prof Collins said farmers are usually proactive about the disease if they have a high prevalence and the economic gain of lowering herd incidence is therefore high. Low-prevalence herds, however, perceive little economic benefit. 

In the USA, $20m (£13m) was invested in a national eradication programme in 2000.

Money was dispersed within individual states and some of the incentives included discounted testing, as well as infrastructure changes such as buying calf huts, he explained.

He added: “As the money diminished, the enrollment of herds also diminished and it is virtually down to zero at the moment.”

Prof Collins urged the UK to learn from the US programme.

“Producers don’t recognise Johne’s as a very significant production-limiting disease. Without some financial subsidy, herds don’t participate.”

He believes market-driven strategies could have a key role to play in Johne’s control programmes.

“If the processor would pay those producers that tested negative some incentive, maybe $0.05/litre [£0.03/litre] more, farmers would choose to go for that incentive.”

He believes there will come a day when consumers will demand milk from Johne’s-free animals, particularly if the tenuous link between Johne’s and Crohns disease in human is proven by scientists.