A FURTHER 10 farmers are needed to participate in field trials of an innovative livestock traceability system in the lower Great Southern region.
Stirlings to Coast Farmers (SCF) group has partnered with Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and Melbourne-based firm Aglive to trial its IntegriPro system on farms.
SCF chief executive officer Christine Kershaw said 10 SCF members running sheep, cattle or both had already volunteered but a further 10 were needed.
They would be provided with the traceability system’s licensed mobile phone app for free, as well as electronic animal identification tags and tag readers, Dr Kershaw said.
Aglive representatives were coming to WA in March, she said, to teach field trial volunteers how to use the technology to map paddocks, create animal profiles and log feed, treatments and other relevant data to create an automatically updated digital stock provenance record.
Dr Kershaw said she had written to processors V&V Walsh, WAMMCO and Fletchers International Exports and hoped they would join the trial of the system as the next link in the supply chain.
“Although we want farmers with sheep and cattle for the on-farm trials of the technology, we are concentrating on getting the sheep processors on board first before we approach the cattle processors,” Dr Kershaw said.
She said the field trials were to be a test of the ease of use, adaptability and accuracy of the digital traceability platform in the early stages of the supply chain from farm through sale yard and transport to processor.
The aim, at this stage, was to compare data collected about an animal on-farm and in transit by the system with carcase assessment data from the abattoir.
“At this point we can trace an animal through the system to the boning room at the abattoir,” Dr Kershaw said.
“Ultimately, with processors expressing interest in new technologies (such as robotic butchers guided by X-ray and computed tomography carcase scans) it should be possible to trace cuts of meat back to an individual carcase and then back to the farm paddock where the animal was born.
“We are absolutely convinced that this type of new technology is critical in taking livestock production to the next level through individual animal management and the use of low stress animal handling methods on farm.”
Dr Kershaw said for producers the traceability system had the potential to improve efficiency in farming methods, particularly pasture management, through the creation of a database over time.
Its automatic update with the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) and other quality assurance requirements in real time would make Livestock Production Assurance National Vendor Declarations (NVDs) “paperless”.
It would help improve transparency, communication, “honesty” and trust along the supply chain, aspects lacking under the present system, she said.
But its biggest advantage for producers and processors alike, Dr Kershaw said, might be in helping market meat products through the establishment of a quality-driven regional brand trusted by consumers because of its traceability.
“Consumers want to connect with farmers and where their food comes from,” she said.
“Producers can help tell this story and get greater leverage from the currency of family farming in our region.
“A new brand and a supporting traceability system reflects our members’ values as producers based on honesty, transparency, good animal welfare and high meat quality.”
Dr Kershaw said SCF had been working with members to raise awareness of improving meat quality as a means of value adding.
“We are trying to convince producers to look at incremental improvements to quality along the MSA (Meat Standards Australia) index, rather than simply producing more base line product.
“We are encouraging members to become MSA accredited.
“It is all part of the concept of creating a trusted, quality, regional brand that consumers recognise and look for.”
As previously reported, SCF is exploring the feasibility of creating a lower Great Southern farmers’ co-operative to value add for local producers.
A regional brand is a part of that concept.
A report on the feasibility and producer interest in forming a co-operative, which may initially incorporate setting up a 50,000-head sheep feedlot and backgrounding facility, is due to be considered by the SCF board in March.
SCF is seeking expressions of interest from farmers who want to participate in the field trials by February 28.
The trials are due to commence on farms in March.