Industry supporting auctions on ID program

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 20, 2004
by WLJ
Producer organizations and industry officials agree, implementing a National Animal Identification Program (NAIP) is not going to be an easy task. For producers to start tagging every animal, and for data to be collected and kept for those animals in every segment of the production chain, there's going to be challenges to face.
In particular, auction markets may be given the largest share of the chores in making sure animals are properly tagged. Other components of the industry are prepared to support auction markets with these changes and even see it as an opportunity for the market to provide a service to the producer.
Rick Stott, vice president of Agri Beef, a long-standing family-owned business that has cow/calf ranches, feedlots and processing operations across the Northwest and Midwest, said no one really knows yet what auction markets will be expected to do if a mandatory national animal identification program is implemented. Stott is hopeful the answer to that quandary will be found in some of the pilot projects USDA is conducting across the U.S.
Agri Beef is a partial funder of the Northwest Pilot Project, an upcoming project in California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington that hopes to develop, implement, and test a process that will allow tracing a livestock animal through multiple livestock industry segments, across state and national borders, to its herd of origin within 48 hours in an efficient and cost effective manner. The project will involve at least one auction market in each of the seven participating states, and probably two or three auction markets in most states.
Stott feels that with a national animal identification program, auction markets are in the best position to profit and expand their service to customers because of the demographics of the cattle industry. Stott said in looking at the cattle industry, 80 percent of the ranchers have herds smaller than 40 head.
"Most of them don't even know this animal ID thing is coming," said Stott. "A person who only has 20 head is probably not going to go out and buy any kind of technology of substance. Typically they are going to come to the auction yard and that auction yard then has the opportunity to provide a service to register the premise, put in an electronic ID to identify the animal, and charge a fee to cover the cost of the service."
He admits, at first it will be a challenge, but once all the details are worked out, it could become an excellent added venture. Stott encourages auction markets to become involved in the pilot projects in their region to help them work out the details, as well as to pay attention to what USDA is releasing about a NAIP and participate in any public comment periods.
"In any new thing, there are people that jump out in front and embrace it and there are people that will lag back and fight it all the way to the bank," said Stott. "I suspect there will be opportunities for those people that really look for the opportunities."
Julie Morrision, Idaho Cattlemen's Association feeder council coordinator, was hired by the Northwest Pilot Project board to be the coordinator. If a mandatory ID is implemented, Morrison said she doesn't envy the auction market operator who will have to deal with small producers that may never have heard of animal ID and yet will bring their animals to the auction market to sell them. Morrison said it will be up to the auction market to explain it to them and bring them into compliance. "At least for producers, it is fairly straight forward what is going to be required of them," said Morrision. "An auction market will have to deal everything under the sun and it could get kind of interesting."
Morrison does feel that auction markets could turn it into a money making enterprise, if they charge producers to assign them a premise ID number.
Ben Higgins, executive vice president of the California Cattlemen's Association also has compassion for the auction market owners and operators. Higgins said he sees a variety of initiatives working together to implement some form of a national identification program—from producers with premise ID to government and packers on tracking. "The auction markets have to figure out what they have to be doing in the middle of these two efforts," said Higgins. "And that is going to be real tough."
Higgins also commented on the technology aspect of a National Animal Identification Program. Auction markets pride themselves on moving large numbers of animals through sales at a very rapid pace and the present technology could impeded that.
"Auction markets present, without a doubt, some of the greatest challenges towards implementing a mandatory national identification program," said Higgins. "Once they get the auction markets figured out, everything else will be easy by comparison."
In terms of technology, there are a handful of tag companies that have been used in electronically tracking cattle from ranch gate to the dinner plate. USDA has emphasized the fact that they are technology neutral in the U.S. Animal Identification Plan, and do not endorse one company's technology over another.
Recently, in a mandatory electronic ID cattle sale in Joplin, MO, Allflex tags dominated most of the selection used by producers. Central regional manager for Allflex, Marvin Scott said he understands auction market's concern regarding the technology and adds that they are working on a system that will operate with the speed of commerce.
In the Joplin sale he said they sold 6,000 animals in a matter of three or four hours. Scott said they backed up a little bit since the tag readers can only read one tag at a time, but they are working on repositioning the readers and painting them, so as not to distract the cattle. Nine readers in total were used in the sale and the cattle were read as they stepped off the trucks, as they exited the sale ring, and as they were loaded back on trucks to exit the facility.
In general, Scott said the basic thing sale barns will need to concentrate on with a national ID is to select a reputable tag company and a reader and to make sure that whatever brand they choose, the tags and the readers meet ISO standards, meaning approved tags will read on approved readers.
"We feel there are tremendous strides that can be made in putting readers in alley ways, off sale rings, in inbound and outbound situations, where we can get much closer to cattle moving through an auction, at the speed of commerce," said Scott. "We're not there yet, but we're getting there." — Sarah L. Swenson WLJ Associate Editor