When USDA announced in February that it was discontinuing the current National Animal Identification System (NAIS), it was celebrated by many agriculture groups and others that have opposed NAIS for several years. The opponents of NAIS felt that implementation was too expensive for farmers and ranchers, especially cattle producers. They also felt that it was too difficult to implement efficiently by the federal government, feeling that state implementation is more appropriate. However, some producer groups and others are now questioning the USDA decision to drop the NAIS program, which had been worked on for nearly a decade, and are concerned whether future animal identification (ID) programs can accomplish the same objectives.

In the announcement by USDA to drop the NAIS program, they outlined four revisions that will be put in place to replace NAIS:

  • Federal animal ID rules will apply only to animal moving across state lines.
  • Animal ID programs will be administered by states and tribal nations to allow more flexibility in ID programs.
  • The revised ID program will allow the use of lower-cost ID technologies, such as freeze brands and hot brands. (NAIS called for traceable computer ID tags.)
  • Future ID systems will be implemented transparently through federal rulemaking.

The next step will be for USDA to convene a forum on the implementation of the revised national animal ID system, which will rely heavily on implementation by the states. Many states have greatly ramped-up animal ID efforts in the past few years, in response to the NAIS program. States have long been responsible for identifying and tracking animals within their own borders and many states have done an excellent job of implementing these systems with very good results. An example is the excellent efforts in Minnesota to track the outbreak of bovine tuberculosis (TB) a couple years ago, and to work within the state and with neighboring states to control the spread of the disease. The key in the future will be for all states to have solid animal ID programs, and the willingness to share that data with other states, and with the federal government.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) had endorsed and supported the NAIS program in the past, feeling it was a positive step strengthening consumer confidence in the U.S., as well as toward solidifying our meat export markets. The NPPC has encouraged pork producers to voluntarily register the premise ID for their hog operation with USDA. According to USDA data, about 90% of hog farms were identified under this voluntary approach. A majority of pork producers have also participated in the voluntary Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) Program, sponsored by the NPPC through their various state organizations.

Many world trade experts are concerned that the discontinuation of the NAIS program may cause some of the U.S. trade customers to lose confidence in meat and dairy exports from the U.S. Today, approximately 25% of U.S. pork, 10% of U.S. beef and 10% of U.S. milk solids are exported to other countries. In 2009, we saw how volatile export markets can be, when almost overnight, pork exports dropped dramatically as a result of the H1N1 outbreak in the U.S., even though it had nothing to do with the pork products being exported. Supporters of the NAIS program are concerned whether a revised state-managed animal ID program will allow the federal government to react quickly enough in the event of future events that may involve animal disease outbreaks, which could have serious economic implications on the U.S. livestock industry.

Check Grain Bins
Here’s a reminder to farm operators to check grain bins for potential storage problems. There have been several reports in recent weeks of corn and soybeans in on-farm storage going out of condition, leading to spoilage, molds and potential large price discounts when the grain is sold. Much of the corn and soybeans in 2009 were harvested at less-than-ideal conditions, and the grain quality going into storage was poor in many situations.

It is very important to check grain bins on a regular basis for any potential storage issues, and to address those issues promptly. Otherwise, there can be considerable damage to grain in storage, resulting in a significant financial loss to the farm operator. Also, the wide range of temperatures in the past several weeks, from very cold in mid-February to fairly mild in the past week, can cause wide temperature variations in grain bins to occur. This can result in moisture migration in the bin and potential for grain spoilage. Farm operators should run aeration fans periodically to equalize the grain bin temperatures in order to help prevent this situation from occurring, and should check grain bins on a regular basis to observe for potential problems.

Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at kent.thiesse@minnstarbank.com.