VICTORIAN Government funding to equip flock owners with electronic tag reading equipment and software is being criticised as potentially unfair, inadequate and and a misallocation of funds by supporters of an initiative to electronically tag all sheep and goats in the state by 2022.
Chief executive of the farm software company Practical Systems, Mark Morton, has welcomed the $17 million funding package for the transition to mandatory tagging for sheep and goats in Victoria, but warned producers they could miss out on the opportunity to access the limited funds available. Click here to get Sheep Central story links sent to your email inbox.
The Victorian Farmers Federation Livestock Group also opposed the State Government’s allocation of up to $750,000 for producer EID equipment and software in its funding of the transition to mandatory electronic identification of sheep and goats.
Apart from a $7.7 million pool to subsidise electronic ear tags for 2017 down to 35-70 cents, the transition funding includes up to $750,000 or a maximum of $3000 per producer to pay EID equipment and software. This equipment can include wand and panel readers, weighing equipment with EID reader fittings, manual drafting crates or lamb marking cradles with EID reader fittings, or software to record performance data or stock movements on the National Livestock Identification System database. Auto-drafters, computers, laptops, phones, tablets and EID tags are excluded.
Mr Morton said he was concerned the package would potentially only support 250 producers applying for the maximum allocation of $3000 from the $750,000 available for equipment and software.
“Even conservative estimates put the total number of sheep and goat producers in Victoria at 15,000, so only 2 percent will be able to access the funds.
“There is a risk producers will miss out if they don’t get organised and get on with it as applications open today (November 14), but at the same time producers need to make the right decisions to ensure accessing the funding will also deliver growth for their business.”
Farm productivity is not EID transition priority – VFF
Victorian Farmers Federation Livestock Group president Leonard Vallance said the VFF didn’t recommend that money be made available for sheep EID hardware on farm, “because this a biosecurity, food safety and market access project, it is not about on-farm productivity necessarily; it’s not the priority.”
“It is up to the individual producer to decide whether they can use it (EID) or not,” he said.
“We told them not to do it, because we don’t see that as a good utilisation of funds.
“I think it probably not one of the better decisions they have made,” Mr Vallance said.
“I reckon it will be first in-best dressed and there will be winners and losers, and we were trying to get it so that everybody won.”
Mr Vallance said the VFF wanted to spread the benefits to all sheep and goat producers.
“The simplest way to do that is to provide cheap commercially-viable tags as long as possible and to get the volume in the industry that will drag the price of the tags down due to the competitive nature of the manufacturers.
Mr Vallance said the EID transition would be a big one-off capital impost on abattoirs and saleyards. The saleyards and abattoirs sectors can access up to $2.8 million each for equipment and hardware. Stock agents have also complained their total transition package of $150,000 was inadequate.
Mr Vallance also criticised the total funding package of up to $40,000 for agricultural shows, which could borrow hand held readers from local agents.
“We said put all the money into the three areas – tags, abattoirs and saleyards – no-one else needs any help.
“Why would a transport operator need to read a tag on a truck?”
The VFF has lobbied the Victorian Government to run the subsidised online EID tag service for five years. It also successfully lobbied for a 2017 visual tag buy-back.
Compulsory EID tags a great opportunity to boost bottom lines
Mr Morton said his company’s experience showed that with the right equipment and software there is huge potential for sheep producers to increase on-farm productivity and profit, but it is important they take the time to find the right system with the reliability and results to match their individual circumstances.
He believed the introduction of compulsory electronic tagging for sheep and goats in Victoria to address biosecurity concerns represented a great opportunity for primary producers to collect data to help plan for the future and boost their business bottom line.
But Mr Morton queried the value with allocating money to discount tags rather than giving more for equipment so more producers could maximise the management benefits of EID.
“Why do we want to make something cheaper that gives no value? The tag on its own is worth nothing.
“My fundamental issue is that we’ve had the NLIS process for the cattle industry in place for the best part of 12 years – if there is 8pc of livestock producers doing any form of individual animal management, I would be surprised,” he said.
Mr Morton said he is usually told by most beef producers they put the EID tag in as animal leave their property, “so it fits the bill of biosecurity and traceability”, but often had not used EID tags to help lift productivity.
“So if we go down the same route with the sheep and just make the tags cheap, are we simply going to create the same story?”
He believed if producers were encouraged to use EID for what it is good for rather than as a compliance tool, “then they own it, advocate it”, with the primary outcome lifting productivity.
Mr Morton also welcomed the commitment from Agriculture Victoria to deliver regional workshops for sheep producers to help them understand the potential advantages to their business of electronic tagging.
“It shouldn’t be about collecting data simply to meet a compliance obligation.
“That would be a waste of time and money,” he said.
“We work with our clients to help them identify the data they need, find the right system to collect that data and support producers to understand and analyze the data to enable producers to making informed decisions to improve stock management and productivity.”
The Victorian Government failed to respond to Sheep Central questions about Mr Morton’s concerns and the EID transition producer equipment and software funding before this article was published.
For more information about the Victorian transition to mandatory EID for sheep and goats click here.