Wichita With a federal animal identification program still years away, cattle producers' groups across the nation are launching their own livestock tracking networks to cash in on consumer demand and better manage their own herds.
The latest to join the growing nationwide trend is the Kansas Farm Bureau, which announced its own individual animal ID system -- dubbed "Beef Verification Solution" -- on Friday.
Between 20 and 50 such alliances have sprung up in the past five years among cattle producers and beef supply chains nationwide. They believe tracking enhances the value of their animals and boosts profitability, said Courtney Oldham, spokeswoman for AgInfoLink, the Colorado-based information management company supplying services to the Kansas group.
Similar individual animal identification networks include the Kentucky Beef Network, Iowa Quality Beef Program and South Dakota Certified Beef program, Oldham said.
"We have two things pulling on us: a national animal ID system -- a USDA-driven vehicle to ensure the overall herd health by tracing animal disease -- but we also have a consumer market-driven demand for verified beef," said Mark Nelson, director of commodities for the Kansas Farm Bureau.
The Agriculture Department's mandatory national animal identification is being phased in gradually. By the end of 2005, every ranch will have a government-allocated premise number. Projections put 2006 or 2007 as the year when individual animals can be identified by origin, Oldham said.
"You may have to do this -- but because you have to do it doesn't mean it's necessarily bad," she said. "There is intrinsic value in tagging each animal, collecting production information or data and using it to make management decisions."
The Kansas Farm Bureau's program will offer producers radio frequency identification ear tags. The network allows producers to decide how much information to provide, Nelson said. That can include such things as each animal's date and place of birth, weaning weight, breeding, color, daily weight gains and carcass data.
Farm Bureau's animal ID program is designed to comply with the national identification system when that is finally in place. But what drives the proliferation of such voluntary industry tracking is consumer demand for so-called source verification.
"The demand for source-verified beef is here now. There are feedlots in Kansas moving 1,000-head a week of source-verified cattle," Nelson said.
McDonald's Corp. has already announced it wants to have at least 10 percent source-verified beef by the end of year, and Wal-Mart is expected to soon follow suit, Nelson said.
"We are seeing more retail outlets wanting source-verified beef," Nelson said. "This network will allow our members, big or small, to be able to fit into the channel."
Kansas Farm Bureau is still working on the logistics, but expects to unveil the animal identification network at its annual meeting Nov. 12-13 in Manhattan, he said.
Consumers want more information about their food, said Mike Matson, spokesman for the Kansas Farm Bureau.
"That is a trend those in the industry have seen coming for some time," Matson said. "We understand that and are working closer with the producer. If they want that opportunity, it is there for them."