SHEEP and wool producers are staring down the barrel of having two different technologies imposed on them as the Victorian Government is accused of enforcing an inferior electronic identification system.
Scanning experts have attacked the decision to mandate low frequency (LF) RFID tags used in the cattle industry for sheep and farmed goats in Victoria from July, believing taxpayers and producers will foot the bill for the outdated technology.
The sudden decision comes as Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX) prepares for a national trial tracing bales using the Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) technology, following four years of investigation.
RFID consultant Mark Anderson, Adilam Technologies, Bayswater, said trials conducted in New Zealand, Scotland and United Kingdom was evidence UHF RFID was best suited to National Livestock Identification System for sheep and goats, which scanned hundreds of units per second at distances of six to eight metres.
This compares to the low number of scans per second at a few centimetres of distance for the LF RFID technology used in cattle.
“While they might be eager to implement the technology, it won’t be improving any processes, it’ll grind things to a stop,” Mr Anderson said. “Whatever low frequency can do for sheep, UHF can do better and faster.”
While saleyards and abattoirs will require operational scanning infrastructure by mid-year, Mr Anderson said turnstiles may be required to slow process and enabled tag readability.
He said LF RFID lacked anti-collision technology which meant only one sheep could be scanned at a time.
While electronic tags, valued at about $1.60 per head, were subsidised by the Victorian Government at 90cents/head they are still double the price of visual tags, which cost about 40c/head.
“It’s a lot of money the taxpayers are paying but it’ll cost the industry more because of the way they will have to adjust themselves to work with the technology,” Mr Anderson said.
“I don’t think the industry thought it would go ahead so there was no counterargument for alternative options.”
The big business of livestock identification tags was evident with the sale of Allflex when it was sold by its European parent company Electra Partners to private equity company BC Partners for about $1.3 billion in 2013.
“Companies have spent a lot of time and money developing electronic ID for livestock,” Animal ID specialist Daniel Brierley said.
“It has taken many years for it to be adopted across species in different countries so as you’d expect, they want to see a return on investment with low frequency before promoting UH RFID.”
Mr Brierley, managing director of Identuate, Brisbane, said the sheep and goat industries would be faced with stock handling challenges unseen in the cattle industry.
“Cattle are high value individual animals that are handled intensively, whereas sheep are handled in large mobs or groups.” he said.
“The technology that works well for cattle is being pushed upon the sheep industry without full evaluation.
“Abattoirs and saleyards don’t realise the increase labour they’ll need to utilise.”
While the UH RFID technology was available, Mr Brierley said few companies had developed it into an ear tag due to Australia’s certification system “weighted against” new products.
“There are barriers to introduction for a new product in Australia so no company would invest $100,000 to submit a product to trial because there is no end market for it,” he said.
“I would say there are a lot of people wondering why a trial hasn’t been undertaken using this technology prior to implementation.”
If bale traceability was introduced on-property, WoolProducers Australia chief executive Jo Hall said under the Victorian Government’s mandatory EID system for sheep, woolgrowers could be forced to adopt two different types of technologies.
“This is far from ideal,” Ms Hall said.
“We implored the Victorian Government to look at new technologies that are now available.
“They have charged ahead and not considered the repercussions of adopting outdated technology or how it will unfold on farm.”
However Agriculture Victoria biosecurity certification manager Ben Fahy said the only electronic device that can be used for livestock identification in Australia must be NLIS approved, with the current standard being low frequency ISO compliant half duplex transponders.
“UHF technology has not been demonstrated to work reliably at all points in the sheep and goat supply chain from birth to slaughter,” Mr Fahy said.
“To ensure the integrity of NLIS electronic devices the transponder codes are unalterable, UHF allows data to be placed on there which may compromise the integrity.
“This is an extremely important feature as the integrity of the traceability system relies on the tag not being altered.”
Mr Fahy said the software and hardware (readers) in place for the cattle supply chain were capable of reading electronic ID devices for sheep.
He said the sheep identification systems operating in the European Union and UK and the cattle identification systems in Canada and New Zealand are also based on LF ISO compliant technology.