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Wisconsin Ups RFID-Adoption Incentives for Cattle Growers

In an attempt to encourage the use of RFID tags for the vast majority of the state's livestock, Wisconsin is covering 50 percent of the tags' cost.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 31, 2007In the face of recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding the identification of livestock, several states have chosen a variety of methods to induce cattle producers to participate in a federal animal-identification program. Only Michigan currently mandates the use of RFID tags to identify cattle, while more than a dozen states have introduced legislation to limit attempts to require the use of RFID for livestock. In Wisconsin, however, livestock producers can take advantage of an incentive program for the purchasing of USDA-approved ISO 11784/11785 passive 134.2 kHz RFID tags. The program is intended to keep the price of the tags close to that of the ear tags previously utilized, consisting of a piece of plastic imprinted with a unique ID number.

The USDA initiated the National Animal Identification System (NAIS)—a cooperative partnership between state and federal governments and the livestock industry—in 2004 to standardize and expand animal identification programs and practices to all livestock species, including poultry. The NAIS intends to enable animal-health officials to identify all livestock and premises that have had direct contact with a disease of concern, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as "mad cow disease," which some studies suggest may be linked to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans.

Robert Fourdraine, WLIC
While the USDA has ruled that the RFID-tagging of livestock should be done on a voluntary basis, each state's programs depend on a region's disease history, the perceived economic risk in not tagging cattle and public opinion on RFID technology. Michigan's mandate requires the RFID-tagging of all cattle by March 2007.

Although the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has no intention of mandating animal identification, it has looked to its neighbor, Michigan—and that state's incentive program of a 50 percent payment for tags—for a way to help ameliorate the cost to farmers while still ensuring that the majority of livestock are tagged. Approximately 1.2 million head of dairy cattle and a slightly smaller number of beef cattle live on 14,000 Wisconsin farms. A large percentage of the state economy is reliant on safeguarding the health of those cattle, says Robert Fourdraine, chief operating officer at the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium (WLIC), a nonprofit group formed to represent the interests of livestock farmers.

Wisconsin's Department of Agriculture is reimbursing 50 percent of the cost of approved RFID tags, up to $1.00 per animal, on a first-come, first-served basis. The program was introduced by the WLIC in late 2006 with an initial 25 percent reimbursement of Department of Agriculture funding. The department opted to double the reimbursement this month.

Fourdraine says the WLIC has conducted RFID pilot programs in the past and has recently been examining the obstacles that keep livestock farmers from buying RFID tags. "A lot of farmers already buy herd-management tags," he says. Such tags, which amount to a flat plastic tag with a unique ID number printed on it, average $1 to $1.65 each, he says, whereas RFID tags cost about a dollar more apiece. By providing 50 percent reimbursement, Fourdraine says, the department can keep the RFID tag cost similar to that of a traditional herd-management tag.

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