During the calving season, news from the outside world generally takes a back seat for most dairy farmers, who have more than enough on their plate without worrying about the world’s problems as well. But this has been an extraordinary year, and at the beginning of September a tragic event occurred that directly affected New Zealand’s dairy industry.

On September 2 the ship Gulf Livestock 1 capsized and sank during a typhoon on its journey from New Zealand to China with 5800 cattle onboard and more than 40 crew members.

Now, the Government has temporarily suspended all live export trade, with it looking increasingly likely that they will be banned altogether in the future. As my knowledge on this topic grew, my concerns for the animals and indeed the future of live exports increased rapidly.

On the last farm I managed, nearly half of our replacement heifers were destined for export, and although at the time I was not the biggest supporter of the idea, it cannot be denied it is a practical solution to reducing bobby calves each year onfarm.

With more and more farmers trying to get away from bobby calves, one of the obvious alternatives has become sexed semen, which allows the farmer to handpick cows that they want replacement heifers from, as well as reducing the amount of bull calves produced.

This season, after sexed semen was used last mating on my herd, we have double the replacement heifers reared in the 2019/20 season – 105 in comparison to 55, and other farmers I have spoken to in the area have said that they are in a similar situation. So where, if not overseas, are we to sell our surplus AI heifers?

In the Waikato this season there haven’t even been enough buyers for our bull calves (we had Angus bulls here, with the cows producing good beef calves long after buyers had filled their quotas) so I doubt everyone has been able to find a buyer for any additional heifer calves as well.

China offers premium prices for NZ’s dairy cattle, and although I am sure I am not the only one who has reservations about sending our homegrown livestock overseas, to have the option removed entirely would be detrimental to our industry.

Three weeks later, thousands of cattle are still awaiting export to China and face an ever-increasing risk of being sent to slaughter instead, as the cost of the wait in pre-export isolation continues to increase.

As well, all searches have been called off for the 40 missing crew members, and the NZ government are failing to co-operate and help the families of the two missing Kiwis who are desperate for any kind of search to be resumed.

A very dear friend of mine is a close friend of Lochie Bellerby, one of the missing men, and I know how hard they are all trying to help find these crew members who still have every chance of being alive. If you can find the time, please research the appeals of the families of the men on board and sign the petition to help persuade the NZ and Australian governments to resume the search.