Opinion

Irish cattle tag market still way off-beam

Let me give you a ‘Nordy’ perspective on the operation of the cattle tag market in the Republic of Ireland: ‘it pretty much sucks’.

Yes, the appointment of a second cattle tag supplier is a step in the right direction – but only a small one.

At the end of the day, it’s the issue of having to wait days for tags coming in the post that really gets me.

In Northern Ireland most farm merchants have a tag printing machine, which is linked up to the Department of Agriculture’s APHIS-on Line herd directory.

Once the operator has the required herd keeper authorisation, he/she can print off new and replacement tags within minutes of an authenticated order being received. It’s all very simple and straightforward.

In my own case there are three merchants within five miles of where I farm that can supply me with tags. This means I can order the tags required by phone before getting into the car.

Normally, the tags are ready for me as soon as I arrive at the farm shop. The one exception to this rule of thumb would in the spring of the year when all the printing machines would be in flat out use.

This system works for me as a part-time farmer. In the first instance, I always leave things to the last minute.

Preparation for a TB test has often been done the day before the vet arrives – not the week before.

The other dimension to cattle tagging which, I believe, works better in Northern Ireland is the inclusion of the BVD testing fee with the upfront price of the tag.

This means that the herd keeper is only left to send off the tissue vials to the laboratory. A padded envelope, with the relevant address label, is supplied with each tag order.  Subsequently, the farmer receives confirmation of the test result by text.

The only additional cost for the herd keeper is that of postage. And that can cause problems. I have heard stories of tissue samples not reaching the intended laboratory because the farmer had not included enough postage on the envelope. But this is an issue that can be easily resolved courtesy of a chat with the local post office.

As far as I am aware, there are no additional levy costs associated with the purchase of tags in Northern Ireland.

The past day or so has seen a number of farm organisations hail the opening up of the tag market south of the border as a means of reducing costs at farm level.

My argument is that the system now operating in Northern Ireland brings this concept to the ultimate level. But it’s the convenience of having an actual tag supplier on my door step that sells the Northern system to me.

It’s also pretty much flaw-free: the actual tag numbers – including the check digit – are generated by the Department of Agriculture in the North. The merchant is then left to get on with the printing.

Let me finish with one general point that relates to the current BVD testing systems now operating north and south.

Surely more value could be generated from the tissue samples generated from each calf that is born on this island. Genomics testing and analysing for other diseases – Johne’s Disease for example – should surely be additional services that could be offered to Irish farmers at a realistic cost.

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