Evidence that ultra high frequency tags (UHF) will be cheaper and better suited to the needs of the livestock industry is lacking, a report has found.
The National Livestock Identification Scheme (NLIS) Standards Committee prepared a report earlier this year (April 2023) that assessed the suitability of emerging technology for adoption for identification traceability, including UHF, for the mandatory roll-out of the electronic identification (eID) for sheep and goats.
With some producers calling for a halt of the eID roll-out to investigate alternative 'cheaper' UHF technology and tags to be less than $1, the NLIS Standards Committee found there was likely to be ongoing downward pressure on the current low frequency (LF) tag price.
In the NLIS Standards Committee report, obtained by The Land, it found the cheapest eiD tag for sheep can be purchased by Victorian producers for 92 cents (at the time of the report).
In other states tags were available for between $1.80 and $2.10, but Western Australia had introduced a 75c device discount on fully NLIS accredited tags as part of a pilot program to help industry transition to eID tags by 2025.
This report was published before the Meat and Livestock Australia UHF feasibility study (September 21 this year), which stated there would otherwise be savings of around $800 million across 20 years if the UHF system was rolled out nationally instead of the existing LF technology.
In the NLIS report, the committee assessed many identification technology options during supervised trials and demonstrations in Australia and overseas, including UHF.
"Before UHF devices could be considered for NLIS accreditation, evidence from long-term independently supervised trials in Australian conditions would be needed to confirm that devices comply with the performance aspects of the NLIS Standard, and that readers and software suitable for use across the supply chain are available 'off the shelf'," the report said.
"There would also need to be a compelling business case endorsed by SafeMeat and the jurisdictions supporting the introduction of UHF technology."
The report says UHF transponders had been available to manufacturers for use in livestock since the late 1990s in Australia and there was a short-term trial in a cattle feedlot in 2019 to assess their usefulness in identifying poor performers in pens using water trough mounted readers.
"The tags used in the trial operated successfully with only four of 621 not being read by the water trough readers, however, the overall ear tag retention rate was 94.9 per cent over the nine-week trial period," the report said. (The NLIS standard requires tags to have a loss rate of no more than 3.5pc across three years).
The NLIS report also stated current uses of UHF included logistics supply chain management and item tracking, cargo and airline baggage identification, and for commercial inventory management. However, no country to date has implemented a UHF based "whole of life" livestock tracking system.
An Integrity Systems Company (ISC) spokesperson said the key recommendation from the MLA UHF feasibility study was further research and trials were needed to validate the costs and suitability of UHF technology for the Australian livestock industry.
"MLA and ISC are guided by industry on what UHF technology research and/or trials should be conducted," the ISC spokesperson said.
"At this time, there have not been any requests to conduct further research and/or trials of UHF technology."
A NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) spokesperson said the government would welcome national trials of new eID technology and was happy to work with commercial manufacturing companies to investigate technologies which improved eID operation.
Meanwhile, Sheep Producers Australia has received the final report for the tag procurement project, which showed feedback from stakeholders indicated a high level of risk for an industry body attempting to establish a national system in a densely populated and mature NLIS tag market.
The national tag tender will be discussed at the next Agriculture Senior Officials' Committee meeting.