Consensus along the whole supply chain will be critical to any implementation of mandatory sheep electronic identification in SA but opinions differ greatly among processors and agents, from strong support to being vehemently opposed.
Thomas Foods International livestock manager Paul Leonard says it is "inevitable" eID will be mandated in SA and encouraged producers to get on the front foot and adopt it voluntarily.
"It is not for us to suggest it should go mandatory - that decision must be made at a government level - but Vic is leading the way and has proven it can be done," he said.
"You could argue that it gives them a competitive advantage having a fully integrated traceability system that can track sheep from the farm through the saleyards and on the hooks ."
He says national consistency is needed in any eID system.
An increasing number of TFI's suppliers were using RFID tags to collect data for on-farm management decisions, Mr Leonard believes biosecurity is the number one reason why a strong sheep eID system is in all producers' best interests.
"Farmers should view eID like an insurance policy - they take out insurance for their farms against bushfires and floods so why not have a way to offer greater protection against a disease outbreak?" he said.
"If there is a disease of some sort found, it would enable those sheep to be tracked much quicker than a paper trail and contain the outbreak to a smaller area."
In any future value-based payment system, Mr Leonard also highlighted that producers would need RFID tags in their animals to participate. He said there was also a risk that if flocks did not transition to eID they could be locked out of some export markets.
"Our customers, particularly top end retailers in the European Union and United Kingdom are demanding full traceability and assurance programs similar to their Red Tractor program, and more of our retailers in North America are asking for more information - RFID will help underpin that market access," he said.
Mount Gambier agent Chris Manser says the present mob-based NLIS system for sheep is "sufficient" for traceability with saleyard audits showing a high level of compliance by SA producers.
He says logistically it would be very difficult to have the time to scan all the sheep and lambs coming through the Mount Gambier saleyards as the cattle market is held the same day.
In peak periods there are yardings up to 20,000 head and a B-double loads are often drafted up to six ways.
"When they decided to make the decision in Vic it was the agents who were left to make it work," he said.
"All saleyards would need devices and we are working with yards that are 40 years of age - it is just not practical."
The Green Triangle Livestock & Real Estate agent sees the biosecurity argument by some to mandate sheep eID due to the threat of Foot and Mouth Disease as a "scare tactic".
Instead he says the federal government should be "ramping up" quarantine for returning travellers or even stopping travel between Indonesia where it has been found and Australia.
"We should be doing everything we can to keep FMD out. I honestly believe if it gets in we won't be able to stop it with feral pigs up north and even around here, and the deer we have," he said.
Elders southern livestock sales manager Laryn Gogel says the company will work with whatever SA's sheep industry decides, confident in what has been learnt from the Vic implementation.
There is no argument about the cost of the tags - it is more the additional infrastructure that they would need to have in place on-farm if they are to run it as it should be run.- LARYN GOGEL, Elders
He said Vic had proven large numbers of animals could be scanned at saleyards and Elders could implement these same systems in SA, although a transition period would be essential.
"We would need to work with the owners of the yards to ensure they get the necessary infrastructure but if we can get that support, it would be similar to the transition of what we saw many years ago on the cattle side," he said.
Mr Gogel says there are mixed attitudes to eID with many producers already going down the eID path and some eagerly awaiting the aspect of individual carcase feedback from processors.
He said they were geared to support their clients with any change and assist with the development of systems and programs, although there were some large producers concerned by the potential outlay of having compulsory sheep eID.
"There is no argument about the cost of the tags - it is more the additional infrastructure that they would need to have in place on-farm if they are to run it as it should be run," he said.
TRACKING the fertility of their ewe bloodlines is the main driver for Amanda and Andrew Lock's decision to adopt eID across their whole flock.
The Naracoorte first cross lamb breeders have put Shearwell electronic tags in all of the Merino ewes they have bought in the past year, except two mobs which already had tags in them.
In the next few years, they will build a valuable database of the pregnancy scanning results of each of these 1546 ewes.
"We will be able to compare that year-on-year, so if there is a ewe that is constantly twinning we can look at that bloodline and where we purchased it from versus one that is constantly giving us singles, and see if we can get a feel for which bloodlines are more fertile," Mrs Lock said.
"Any ewe with a lambing problem we have scanned and recorded too, so we can draft that sheep out of the flock after the lambs are weaned," Mr Lock added.
Next month after lamb marking, they will have eID tags in every sheep on their farm. They say the additional $1 an electronic tag costs, compared with a visual tag, is worth every cent for its on-farm management benefits.
"You have to put a tag in anyway and doing it with an electronic tag means you can easily record valuable data that allows you to make better management decisions, and makes LPA auditing easy," Mrs Lock said.
Many of their Border Leicester-Merino ewe and wether lambs are sold into Vic where electronic tags are compulsory. This year they plan on offering up all the data they have collected on each lamb as a potential marketing advantage.
Despite the many benefits they see eID giving their sheep enterprise, the Locks believe mandating it in all SA flocks would be the "wrong way to go".
"You would be better off with a carrot rather than a stick approach. If they (the SA government) were doing what Vic does, subsidising the tags, that would encourage people to have a crack at it," Mrs Lock said.
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