Constant repetition of the same message tends to diminish the impact on the audience, well-travelled veterinarian Trevor Cook writes.

Over October I had 14 flights that took me to and from the Northern Hemisphere and between a number of countries. Quite apart from the global warming consequence, sitting through 14 safety presentations brought home another consequence. To hear the same message over and over again, diminished any impact the message was supposed to have.

Few passengers engaged in listening and those that did did so with a bored demeanour. Air New Zealand stood out in trying to make that message attractive but in reality it just made it more entertaining. Would people really know what to do if an emergency developed?

It made me consider the messages farmers have been bombarded with over the years, but which seem to have had little impact.

It has allowed farmers to think “this does not apply to me”.

Despite the same advice being delivered for more than 20 years about effective and sustainable worm management, resistance has developed seemingly unabated and on most farms worm larval challenge significantly limits liveweight gains in growing animals.

The messages have been consistent and clear, yet the size of the problem is bigger than it was all of those years ago. Has the impotence of the safety message through repetition been replicated in the impotence of the worm message?

The airlines often emphasise that the message is specific to that aircraft so please take notice, yet in reality it mimicked all of the others. I have not observed any more attention being made because it was supposedly specific to that aircraft.

One of the big mistakes that has been made in the advice about sustainable worm management is the very often quoted proviso that each farm is different. It has allowed farmers to think “this does not apply to me”. And so not take the message seriously. In reality, the problem is the same for every farm and the solutions are the same.

The various mitigating options that can be applied could vary between farms but the list of options to chose from is standard all around the world. Farmers across the other side of the world who get exposed to me get the same messages. Their option list is shorter than ours though and in general they have little idea of how bad the problem is.

The little data I have been able to glean is that drench resistance is widespread.

We are now in the third year of good prices for sheep meat and beef. It is almost unprecedented and looks like it will continue. When prices are up just small gains in production can reap an attractive return. This has led to some behaviours that are not in the long-term interests of the industry or the farm. A good example is the use of persistent-acting drench products in ewes before lambing.

The possibility that lamb weaning weight could be lifted as a result of using these has driven some farmers to use them whereas in the past they did not. In the past the cost has seemed too high relative to the possible gain but when that potential gain is higher the gamble is more worth taking. The production benefit is highly variable and in adequately fed ewes the chances of gain are low.

There is now no debate that these products are very selective for drench resistance. That selection is a very gradual process so not evident or measurable for many years. This message of that danger is well known and has been preached for many years. Yet like the airline safety announcements, it seems to fall on deaf ears.

The cost benefit equation being applied that justifies the use of these products does not put a cost on having more resistant worms on the farm as a consequence of their use. Just as the airline messages seem meaningless because most planes never crash, the poor visibility of having more resistant worms makes the resistance warnings seem hollow.

I feel I am banging my head against a brick wall. I now slip those into the factors that can impact on stock performance and wrap the necessary actions among the rest of the actions. My sense is that there is more uptake. But is it enough?

I look at the massive change there has to be in human behaviour to have any impact on planet sustainability and feel we are fiddling around the edges by reducing the emissions from livestock and limiting nitrogen use. The 25 houses across the road from me that was farmland six years ago has made that land much more a danger to the world than it was. Just as the millions of people flying in aircraft were.