Producers want the government to hit the pause button on the roll-out for the electronic identification (eID) for sheep and goats to investigate an alternative tagging system that could save them at least $800 million across 20 years.
They say the alternative ultra high frequency (UHF) tags are not only cheaper but they hold more data and have a faster reading rate compared to the low frequency (LF) tags currently available.
The UHF technology is not available in Australia, but can be purchased from China.
According to the Meat and Livestock Australia UHF feasibility study, published September 21 this year, there would be savings of around $800m across 20 years (around $40m a year) if the UHF system was rolled out nationally instead of the existing LF technology.
This study comes as a separate report commissioned by Integrity Systems Company (ISC) Tracking and Tracing sheep Milestone Phase Two Final Report in 2021, states UHF was the recommended next step for industry in its technology roadmap. This report, obtained by The Land, is yet to be published.
When The Land asked why the 2021 report was not released, ISC said: "A project was undertaken which reviewed the appropriateness of an eID system and other emerging technologies and approaches to improve the traceability and integrity of the system. A detailed cost analysis on UHF was not part of the project. Publication of the report is being finalised."
Former NSW Farmers' president James Jackson said there needed to be halt on the eID roll-out because people were buying LF tags that could be redundant in two to three years.
"I use LF tags, but they are pretty hopeless," Mr Jackson said.
"What would make them more suitable on farm is if the read rate was quicker and the read distance was quicker, both features the UHF tags have over LF tags."
He also called for accreditation for UHF tags and to expedite the research on retention to make sure they were NLIS compliant.
"I'm keen for us to get better access to technology and there is no doubt UHF is better technology that will help with on-farm management," he said.
"While the beneficiaries of eID are many, almost all the recurrent costs of eID fall on the breeder's shoulders. It is not unreasonable to ask for the most cost effective option to be seriously considered."
Prime lamb and Merino wool producer Floyd Legge, Cudal, echoed Mr Jackson's sentiments saying, given the release of the 2023 report, there needed to be further investigation into UHF technology as there was a 71.4 per cent tag cost reduction, as outlined in the findings.
"If it's the way the report reads, we will be able to have a national roll-out of the UHF technology that will be more accurate and far cheaper for farmers as they are the ones who will have the recurring costs," Mr Legge said.
Mr Legge said there needed to be a call out to the tag manufacturers and technology companies to "put their effort" into delivering UHF products fit for the Australian livestock industry.
Mr Legge said data from the 2023 report showed LF tags had 20 reads per second while UHF had 200 to 250 reads per second.
"It also can read from a long range, but able to be turned down, in order that individual animals can be scanned, without reading all the ones around them," he said.
Queensland's AgForce sheep and wool president Stephen Tully has backed NSW producers' calls to halt the roll-out to investigate UHF technology because the current proposal was not suitable.
After being told the technology was too difficult to access last year, Mr Tully purchased a reader for $350 from China, plus 50 tags at 48 cents each, and went about demonstrating the technology everywhere he went.
"I was getting a lot of push back that the technology wouldn't work, so I bought the technology out of China and it read 100 tags in two seconds," Mr Tully said.
While the NSW government has been allocated $7.2m from the federal coffers, Queensland only has a $600,000 share in funding.
He said the Queensland government was also proposing to give each producer a $1100 one-off subsidy to cover the costs.
"Industry argument is that we want $1 a tag and UHF would provide that," he said.
"The problem is a four to seven year lead time waiting for tags to be accepted for Australian conditions."
An ISC spokesperson said there was currently no UHF tag commercially available in Australia and if a suitable option was found, implementation was estimated to be seven years away.
The spokesperson said the UHF tags could hold more data, but the cost, suitability and commercial availability of devices needed further investigation.
They added correct reader placement and infrastructure upgrades would be needed to capture data from greater distances.
A NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) spokesperson said the the sheep and goat traceability reference group was aware of the range of electronic identification technology available on the market.
The DPI spokesperson said LF technology had been adapted and designed specifically for livestock supply chains and proven as a reliable long-term traceability option for various livestock settings.
The spokesperson said there were a number of reasons why UHF was not chosen, which included no commercial provider of NLIS approved UHF tags in Australia and the database would need to be upgraded to allow UHF data to be integrated.
While the government says UHF tags experience interference from metal, flesh, tissue and water, industry says these impacts could be minimised or removed with reader adjustment.
Meanwhile, the Pastoralists' Association of West Darling has secured a two week extension for the DPI's pulse survey about the mandatory adoption of electronic tags for sheep and farmed goats.
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