Written by Laura Handke, American Gelbvieh Association
Originally Printed in the October 2023 Gelbvieh World
A viable market requires two things: supply and demand. When either of those components are disrupted, a ripple is felt throughout the remainder of that value chain. The beef market is no different.
In the U.S., our major protein sectors have invested in Secure Food Supply Plans, which provide guidance for livestock producers to voluntarily prepare before a foreign animal disease outbreak. These plans are structured to mitigate value chain supply ripples by limiting the exposure of animals through heightened biosecurity. All plans clearly institute qualification permitting for animals with no evidence of infections and minimal to no exposure.
The pork; poultry; sheep and wool; milk; and beef industries have all established collaborations between industry, state governments, USDA, and academia to create their respective Secure Food Supply Plan in an effort to protect both their markets and producers from impacts of foreign animal disease outbreaks.
It stands to reason that it’s hard to control a foreign animal disease outbreak if you don’t have a handle on animal location – a conversation U.S. CattleTrace Executive Director, Callahan Grund, says goes hand in hand with biosecurity.
“When you start talking about economically significant disease outbreaks, such as foot and mouth disease (FMD), those conversations are starting to mesh. Traceability has progressed enough that the industry’s producers are starting to look at traceability more. Biosecurity and traceability are coming together on the farm because there has been a lot of progression in terms of individual ID and, even more so, in education amongst producers,” Grund told us.
A Plan to Mitigate Outbreak Repercussions
An unsettling peace of mind, Grund says that many producers evaluate the fact that we haven’t had an FMD outbreak since 1929 and take comfort in the longevity of our security. As an industry, we’ve been fortunate to have avoided the next-door threats that have hastened the biosecurity and traceability plans of other sectors, but an out-of-sight out-of-mind outlook isn’t beneficial for any link of the beef value chain.
That’s why Grund and his team are taking the opposite stance, ramping up the opportunity to provide economically viable traceability to producers of all sizes. U.S. CattleTrace works to build a system that works for cattle producers: cow-calf, backgrounders, and feeders. The objective: establish a framework of traceability before it is needed so, as an industry, we have a contract tracing system in place to mitigate the effects of an outbreak.
Today, U.S. CattleTrace is active in 25 states with more than 3.5 million reads in the system (individual enrollments aren’t tracked), with key initiatives centered around producer education and working on viable, real-world solutions to accomplish traceability within all classes of cattle.
“I think we have to become even more prepared. Especially with where we sit within the global protein space and the implications an outbreak will have for not only trade, but the ability to resume trade, and the trickle-down effect that will have on long-term viability within our operations and rural communities,” he says, noting that as beef cattle producers, he and his family are personally invested in the success of the beef market. “That’s the whole reason I became involved with CattleTrace to begin with.”
U.S. CattleTrace is a 100% voluntary contact tracing system that collects only four points of data: an electronic animal identification number, date, time, and the GPS coordinates from which the ID was read.
“We are focusing on having readers at points of commerce and points of co-mingling of different animals in the cattle industry to be able to accurately pinpoint if we ever needed to identify close contacts, for example, in a disease outbreak,” Grund explains.
Added Technology Benefits
Since U.S. CattleTrace’s inception, the group’s limitations on cattle electronic identification have lessened and the technology has become more affordable, making traceability more accessible to more operations.
“We just require a form of identification that allows for hands-free identification, whether that’s low frequency, high frequency, ultra-high frequency, or Bluetooth — whatever works best for an operation, generally works for us,” he says. “Our goal is to work at the speed of commerce, and we’re getting closer.”
Implementing the EID technology also can create value-add opportunities within a herd, helping producers more closely track cattle. The improved accuracy of the EID tag or chip, can be read electronically in a fraction of a second, replacing the risks of misidentifying tag number or inventorying cattle one by one. At the herd level, advancements in software options make it possible for producers to record health procedures on a routine basis to prove a withhold period has been met, monitor persistent veterinary issues on an individual animal level, record live weight and weight changes, and much more.
These advancements and new EID opportunities have, perhaps, begun to shift producer sentiment as Grund shares that he and his team have witnessed a positive change in interest and adoptions of U.S. CattleTrace.
“A lot of the early conversations we had hinged on “what’s in it for me” and rightfully so. We all have to have ROI, the “what’s in it for me will always be a question”. What we’re hearing today is more finetuned, producers are asking about the best ways to implement EIDs in their herd, how they can implement EIDs and U.S. CattleTrace, and who we can connect them with to add value to implementing,” he says. “That’s really what we are working on going forward—the application, the education, and changing producer perspective on how the system can benefit their operation, their bottom line, and the entire U.S. beef value chain.”