A pilot study investigating the potential of a groundbreaking facial eczema (FE) tolerance test is being launched this month.
The purpose of this pilot study, which is being led by AgResearch’s Dr Axel Heiser and funded by Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ), is to test the feasibility of a laboratory-based test to determine an animal’s tolerance to the toxin associated with FE.
If initial results look promising, the test will require further development and full validation to make it a readily available test for breeders and commercial farmers.
The cause of the disease, which has been known in New Zealand for over 100 years, is attributed to the toxin sporidesmin, produced by the fungus Pithomyces chartarum. This spore-producing fungus sits in the litter at the base of pasture swards.
This disease causes significant production losses and adversely affects the welfare of affected animals. Estimates suggest that in a bad year, FE can cost the country $266 million dollars in lost production.
More common in warm, moist environments, a changing climate means FE is likely to spread further into southern regions.
“This work is a great example of B+LNZ investing in research now to find solutions to a problem that farmers face now and that will become worse over time” says Dan Brier, B+LNZ’s General Manager Farming Excellence.
Results from the pilot study are expected by March next year. If the pilot is successful and funding can be secured, validation and implementation of the test is expected to be completed by late 2022.
Most research into FE is historical and limited management tools are available. This is despite the significance of FE and the length of time it has been affecting livestock in NZ.
Dr Axel Heiser says new science approaches and technologies provide an opportunity to find a solution to a serious issue for New Zealand farmers.
Alongside this proof-of-concept work, B+LNZ will be working with Dr Heiser to build a collaborative funding bid to for a larger research programme to investigate the knowledge gaps of FE in New Zealand. This programme aims to provide several new strategies to reduce the occurrence and impact of FE for farmers.