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Dickinson gives USDA animal identification boondoggle report
Guest Opinion

BARNESVILLE, Ohio — Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., introduced two bills that would amend the Animal Health Protection Act to direct the USDA Secretary to establish an electronic livestock identification system. This is where a multibillion dollar federal program started spreading its roots.

Now more than $70 million has been doled during the past 30 months to promote, study, plan, and implement the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). The original idea was to develop a 48-hour national computer method to locate the lifetime communication path of any critter that might test positive for the dreaded BSE. Once the idea was announced by USDA, protocol bounced all over the spectrum right down to what the penalty would be for noncompliance and who would enforce the punishment.

The USDA has presented a rosy picture of the great benefits of NAIS. The program is being outlined as so imperative there would not be any federal consideration of a “no” vote by the public, just a how and when decision is made at Washington. The “how” and “when” part is heating up all over the nation, and also the big question of “how much?”

On the “how much” question some feel the USA census budget is a direct parallel to the NAIS computer entry cost. The projected budget for the 2010 census is $11 billion, but the annual data entry for NAIS is believed to be several times more than a single year’s census. Considering these numbers, the majority of livestock owners doubt any need of NAIS.

Kevin Dhuyvetter, at Kansas State University, prepared a spreadsheet to estimate electronic ID costs (www.beef The annual Radio Frequency ID system came out to $3.43 annually on a herd of 1,250. It is $24.10 each on a 62-head herd. The spreadsheet ends there. To take it forward to where the actual hooves meet the dust, the total average U.S. cattle herd number is under 20 head. This brings the estimated cost per one owner animal annually to more than $70.

USDA Secretary Mike Johanns has worked tirelessly to develop the Japanese and foreign market. He said it will raise the value of every head of cattle in the U.S. by $10 to $14. NAIS, according to Johanns, is imperative to maintain this premium, although the compliance cost of NAIS is proving to be up to 10 times the export “premium” projected.

At first blush, USDA would finance and control all data collection and storage. Later government financing would come from two possible sources, the livestock producers would pay all or part and the taxation of nonlivestock owners would pay all or part. This is still unannounced at this date.

The USDA has spent much of their allocated funds for color ads placed in major beef publications, and county “listening sessions” all across the nation. If producers opposed the plan, they could record their concerns on the USDA input website.

The National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) is pushing to swing the computer data storage and entry supervision to the private sector. They feel protection of the producers’ rights and confidentiality is a top priority, and the industry is best equipped to do this rather than the government. The NCBA has submitting bids to handle the job. This would make the annual income for NCBA more than quadruple, if USDA buys their idea.

According to a recent Farm World Newspaper article, the National Farmers Union believes that the USDA is headed in the wrong direction. NAIS, if implemented, should be totally financed by the government and they should collect and store all data. The USDA is planning to shut down a third of all Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices while at the same time starting a new NAIS bureaucracy to handle and house NAIS. These are a few of the NFU concerns.

Farm Bureau has concerns that NAIS funding will pull emphasis away from current farm budget items such as conservation, disaster payments, Direct & Countercyclical Payments (DCP) and Loan Deficiency Payments (LDP).

Independent country livestock auctions and small livestock producers have concerns that they will be not be able to afford computer reading and data dispersing equipment. Therefore placing their business investments in either noncompliance violation or force them to terminate.

Part of NAIS compliance is the 100 percent Premises ID. To make the program work, every livestock producer in the U.S. will be required to register their premises. In order to provide quarantine protection, operations may register numerous premises with separate locations even though there is only one owner.

As the first two years of NAIS Premises ID comes to a close and more than $70 million has been spent, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns announced that “about” 100,000 premises have been registered. With more than a million cattle producers, and multiple premises per producer, this reveals the program has been an extremely hard sell.

This announced number indicates as little as 4 percent of the actual producers have enlisted. The number of farm owners is mysteriously not being quoted by USDA, just the number of premises enrolled.

Johanns recently indicated support of the private implementing of NAIS, but he also expects major self funding by the private partnership, whoever it may be.

After all is said and done, much more has been said than done. And for livestock producers in the U.S. this is really good news. Will Rogers said, “Be thankful you don’t get all the government you pay for.”

As multifaceted livestock producers brace to protect themselves from NAIS, it’s complicated regulations, and unpredictable costs, the question is, “How impossible and costly does a bad government idea have to be before you scrap it?”

For more information on the complicated NAIS boondoggle, visit:

-Darol Dickinson, Dickinson Cattle Co., Inc., Barnesville, Ohio This farm news was published in the March 8, 2006 issue of Farm World.