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USDA Releases RFID Animal-Tracking Project Report

The Agriculture Department concludes that "animal identification and tracing can be implemented successfully in a production environment."
By Claire Swedberg
The pilots also found that some identification programs already underway could integrate with NAIS, making the implementation of RFID a simpler process. For example, at least 50 percent of dairy farmers in Pennsylvania were already participating in the national Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI) program, in which data about each animal is collected and shared electronically. In this case, farmers were able to maintain the same data management system while installing RFID readers to collect that information.

Pilot participants did not always need to invest in RFID interrogators or other expensive equipment. In many cases, they were able to use visual tags to manage animals until the moment they left the premises, at which time they could tag the animals with RFID transponders pre-encoded with ID numbers, sparing the participants the need to buy interrogators. According to the report, most found that RFID led to more accurate records, more efficient recordkeeping and a reduction in errors and labor costs. And at auction markets, it indicates, the use of RFID tags eliminated the potential hazard resulting from physically restraining animals to read the ID numbers of visual tags.

The pilots also determined that not every environment is favorable to RFID technology use. In the Southwest Pilot Project (SWPP), for instance, several facilities had to be modified to keep RF interference from affecting the read rates. This required both retrofitting some existing facilities and actually building some new ones. In addition, producers learned that the correct tag application was important, not only for tag retention but also to prevent infection. About 25 percent of the cattle in one group of the Southwest pilot, for example, suffered infections resulting from misplaced ear tags.

The Florida Pilot Program (FPP) focused on finding value-added benefit from the use of RFID technology. By tagging cattle, producers qualified them as source-verified beef, making them eligible for industry-sponsored cash incentives at the time the animals were sold.

Several additional field-trial projects, Maloney says, funded with fiscal year 2005 monies remaining from the amount set aside for the pilots, are now underway. These projects are intended to provide more comparisons of technologies and to more clearly define implementation costs for NAIS. The final report is available here.

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