A national plan for an individual electronic identification system for sheep and goats, which was agreed upon last week by state and federal agricultural ministers, is likely to still be years away from being mandatory.
On Monday, Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt confirmed the state ag ministers had agreed on the need for more robust traceability than the visual tag mob-based system but details have been scant.
There has been no proposed timeline for a roll out or even that using eID tags will be compulsory across all flocks.
Some producers believe it is well overdue with a NLIS system for beef operating since 2004 while many others see it as a "knee jerk" reaction that will be of no benefit to the heightened foot and mouth disease threat facing Australia.
There are also loud calls from producers, agents and saleyards for both state and federal governments to commit to eID funding.
Primary Industries Minister Clare Scriven says more details will be discussed at the next meeting of state ag ministers early next month but was pleased a consensus for a national plan had been reached.
"The state government and PIRSA has been working with industry on livestock traceability for some time, including sheep and goats," she said. "We support these improvements for traceability, biosecurity but also producers using it to increase their productivity - there are a lot of benefits to an eID traceability system."
Ms Scriven said it was "too early" to discuss government funding but was keen for the eID committee to accelerate their recommendations, including cost sharing.
She also reassured SA producers there would be no attempt to rush it in.
"We recognise that if producers are not behind this, it will struggle to be a success," she said.
Opposition agriculture spokesperson Nicola Centofanti welcomes any improvement in traceability for enhancing biosecurity and food safety but says it "won't happen overnight".
"We have seen Vic go down this path and it was heavily subsidised by the Victorian government, to my understanding, to the tune of $21m over a five-year period," she said.
"I am seeking a commitment from the state government to assist SA producers in a similar way.
"It can't be left up to the producers to have the burden of that cost."
Livestock SA is pushing ahead with its consultation, which has been largely funded by $140,000 from the state government's Red Meat & Wool Growth Program.
Early this week, the representatives from across the supply chain were selected for the sheep and goat traceability steering committee and will now come up with the best plan for SA and recommend how it should be funded.
Recently retired MP Peter Treloar, who runs a self-replacing Merino flock at Edillilie, will chair the committee. He says it is an important topic and timely with the threat of biosecurity incursions.
"The decision has been made for us in relation to implementing eID so now we need to come up with the best processes for SA while keeping costs to a minimum," he said.
"We have to recognise Australia, and indeed SA, exports commodities around the world and more and more of our overseas customers are going to be expecting that the products they are purchasing are fully traceable."
Livestock SA president Joe Keynes says they will be calling for "co-investment" from the state government.
"There is a lot of public good in this with a lot of money generated from sheep and lamb exports and many people employed in the sector," he said.
PPHS chief executive Robin Steen accepts a national eID system for sheep is inevitable but believes the decision is "jumping the gun".
"Vic has had it (eID) for more than five years but from what we are hearing there is a fair bit not going to plan with IT compatibility issues and tags not being read in the abattoirs," he said.
The prominent SE agent says significant infrastructure upgrades will be required at the Naracoorte Regional Livestock Exchange.
"Quite a few of the saleyards like Bendigo, Ballarat and Hamilton, Vic, have a hell of a lot more room between their unloading ramps and penning," Mr Steen said. "If we have a B-double delivering lambs we will be drafting and scanning half way through unloading. You can cope this time of year but when it gets busy it will be a pretty interesting situation."
Mr Steen also that hobby farmers where many of the traceability fails were in the current mob based system were no more likely to use electronic tags as the visual tags currently required.
JABUK first cross ewe breeders Ian and Dale Farley are furious the federal and state governments have used the looming FMD threat as an excuse to bring in a national sheep electronic identification system.
Ian says it is just another tax on their business, estimating it will be about $16,000 for tags and infrastructure in the first year and $12,000 more buying tags in subsequent years.
"If it is not broken why are we changing it, I can't see how electronic tags will be more traceable than the (visual tag) system we have now," he said.
"The paper based system is robust and a paper and pen is simple.
"My 33 cent tags have Farley on one line and Jabuk below it so if any of my sheep are found in a 50 kilometre radius, that person can just read the tag and know exactly whose they are.
"I can use a set of pliers and put them straight in the ear whereas those other tags are going to cost $1.60, will be harder to put in so more stressful on the sheep."
Ian says it discriminates against older farmers like himself who are not tech savvy and will add more work load to stock agents.
Instead of this "knee jerk" reaction, he says the federal government should have tougher biosecurity measures at the border.
He supports closing Australia's border with Indonesia for a few weeks until tighter protocols can be put in place and then reduced entry points for travellers.
Dale acknowledges there may be benefits, especially for studs using eID tags to record information on individual animals, but says uptake should be voluntary rather than forced upon them.
"Everyone from the outside thinks farmers are making plenty of money but the costs just keep adding up," he said.
"It won't stop stock theft either, it is just as easy for someone to steal one of our sheep and cut an electronic tag out as cutting a visual tag out."
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