AgForce's sheep and wool and cattle boards have voted unanimously for a feasibility study into the adoption of ultra-high frequency electronic identification device technology to improve national traceability for all livestock species.
The resolution has since been endorsed by Sheep Producers Australia and Cattle Council of Australia and forwarded to Integrity Systems, the company that manages and delivers the Australian red meat industry's three key on-farm assurance and through-chain traceability programs.
The feasibility study being undertaken by ISC will include a cost benefit analysis for both sheep and cattle industries, will analyse the impact on current NLIS software and hardware, and will explore any adaptability possibilities for other cloven-hoof species.
Incoming sheep and wool board president Stephen Tully is a big believer in the ability of the UHF eID technology to allow everyone to participate in a national traceability roll-out, and is prosecuting his argument throughout the country.
After being told that the technology was too difficult to access, he purchased a reader for $350 from China, plus 50 tags at 48 cents each, and has been demonstrating them everywhere.
That began with Queensland Agriculture Minister Mark Furner when he attended an AgForce sheep and wool board meeting held during the Ekka.
"Traceability has to be improved in sheep and goat industries," Mr Tully said.
"We want it to be as good as possible, with the least disruption to people, because unless we've got a high compliance rate, it won't work.
"We need to acknowledge that the technology is out there now to do this.
"I've given Minister Furner a tag so he can bring it out of his pocket every time someone tries to tell him the technology is not yet available."
As well as having the potential to halve the current cost of ear tags and, where dual readers are available, to assist the cattle industry to transition from low frequency tags to a fully integrated UHF system, Mr Tully said his testing had showed they could read 50 tags in two seconds.
While the touted range is seven metres, the range at which his reader operated comfortably was 3-4m.
He hasn't tagged any animals but has thrown them out on his lawn, and given to people to hold behind their backs, among other tests.
"I got stock tags but you can buy all sorts of things, such as stickers that you could put on books, eskies, anything," he said.
"It's frustrating to me that I first heard about this in 2016 and that AWEX CEO Mark Grave has done a wool bale trial with them, and yet I get told that it's too new, that it's not market ready, that the cost is unknown.
"Yes, it's fast moving technology but they are using it in the US for cattle and in the EU for pigs and other livestock."
The UHF technology may allow for greater on-property production and management benefits for producers when compared to current low frequency technology, which needs to be read individually, because it can store production data and chemical history on the tags.
Mr Tully said a figure of $150m had been quoted as the cost of ensuring sheep compliance with national traceability plans, commenting that at that price, it would be important not to use out of date technology.
"I think for the people who've done the right thing and already purchased NLIS tags, you can buy a dual reader, but I suggest some of that $150m should go towards helping them change over without financial penalty," he said.
"The top 20 per cent of producers don't need a lot of help, they're innovative and already doing these things - it's the bottom 20pc we have to bring up; foot and mouth disease doesn't care who it affects."
Tagging goats, whether it be with conventional NLIS tags or the UHF ones, could be a 'spanner in the works' as far as electronic tag uptake was concerned, Mr Tully said.
"A million goats a year go through the depot system in NSW," he said.
"The goat scene in western NSW is very different from Queensland, they don't manage their goats, they still run wild.
"How do you put tags in big feral billies jumping all over each other in a race, before they go to the meatworks.
"It's something you have to think about because we've got to make it workable for all."
RELATED: Legband eID on offer for goats
Mr Tully was attending a Sheep Producers Australia working committee meeting in Canberra this week, where he said traceability would undoubtedly be a big part of the meeting.
"Our role is very important," he said. "We've got to bring all this back to the average producer, so there's a full uptake of tags."
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