Allan Barber reports problems continue with the NAIT tracking and transfer systems and there appears no urgency by the system operators to sort them out

Allan Barber reports problems continue with the NAIT tracking and transfer systems and there appears no urgency by the system operators to sort them out

By Allan Barber*

In July last year I raised the problem of accurately identifying and recording all cattle movements, citing the issues experienced by a farmer friend who had no success in reconciling stock on his farm with NAIT’s records.

The farmer had contacted NAIT which eventually got back to him, but the process of reconciliation was several weeks out of date.

NAIT’s website states “New Zealand's National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) scheme is an identification system that links people, property and livestock. It was developed to identify and trace livestock (cattle and deer) within New Zealand and can provide, fast, reliable and accurate information on stock location and movements.” There are three primary purposes of introducing the system – to improve consumer confidence, disease management and food traceability. A 2009 analysis estimated a benefit of $141 billion to the economy over 20 years from introducing the scheme.

I would like to be able to report an improvement in performance since July, but unfortunately a different version of the same sort of problem still appears to be happening, indicating the scheme has not yet got to grips with the issues.

As a specific example cattle bought at a sale in December in two different lots and sold by different agents were registered and notified to the purchaser at different times, one within 24 hours, the second a month later. Admittedly the Christmas and New Year period intervened. Of the second lot, five cattle were wrongly numbered, but a request to NAIT for information about where the cattle actually were has resulted in complete silence, now more than two months after the sale.

My friend is firmly of the opinion NAIT should be able to identify those cattle which don’t have the correct number and advise him whom they belong to or make arrangements to contact the owner. He also observes most farmers will probably ignore the discrepancy and leave it to NAIT to find out without notifying them. The result of that will be an increasingly inaccurate database. It is almost certain the information gap occurs at the point of sale when the selling stock agency transfers the animal data to the new owner via the purchasing agency.

After a conversation with OSPRI’s CEO Michelle Edge and Group Manager Programme Design and Partnerships Stu Hutchings, I’m not convinced there’s any particular urgency to overcome the problems. I may be doing NAIT an injustice, but there appears to be no real acceptance there is a problem in the first place. In response to my question why there was no plan to ensure all farms were equipped with scanners, I was told scanners were only one input and the present system of agents providing scanning for the farmer was considered adequate. This doesn’t tie in with what farmers have told me.

My impression is the performance after less than four years since the Act was passed into law in 2012 is considered perfectly acceptable when compared with other countries including Australia who have introduced mandatory traceability. New Zealand’s target is to achieve 97.7% of herd movements sooner than the Australian system which has taken 20 years to reach 98%. After four years NAIT is still very much work in progress, because no system is foolproof.

Edge is keen not to judge the performance of NAIT too soon or against criteria that are too strict. To put the system’s performance in context, she considers it is more important to identify where the risks are and to quantify them than to aim for an unrealistically high percentage achievement level. Putting this into the New Zealand context Edge maintains a disease outbreak would be within a fairly closely confined area and therefore NAIT would be quite capable of identifying over 90% of the cattle movements in and out of that area.

In a perfect world this may be fine, but the inaccurate records supplied by the selling agent at the saleyards, as in the case of the neighbouring farmer who was supplied with wrongly numbered stock, are a problem. In the case of an FMD outbreak, this inaccuracy could be fatal.

To be fair to NAIT, 92% of the national herd is now registered and this rate of uptake has accelerated over the past 12 months through workshops and education. It is not up to NAIT to police the level of farmer uptake which is actually the responsibility of MPI; OSPRI’s role is to introduce the animal ID and traceability system on behalf of the industry and the government.

However what concerns me is the apparent complacency of NAIT’s management in allowing an organisational culture which appears to regard two months’ delay in replying to queries as acceptable practice. If this continues, conscientious farmers will throw their hands up and stop reporting errors.

Farmers I have spoken to are frustrated by several issues: the delays in getting cattle registered, the problem getting answers when records are not correct, the lack of common readability between the two types of tag, and the impression they are bearing a cost which is not yet justified by the performance of the traceability system.

I’m not sure this is the outcome New Zealand farmers bought into when NAIT was finally passed into law.

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*Allan Barber is a commentator on agribusiness, especially the meat industry, and lives in the Matakana Wine Country. He is chairman of the Warkworth A&P Show Committee. You can contact him by email at or read his blog here ». This article first appeared in Farmers Weekly and is here with permission.

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I agree that the livestock companies are the weak link in the chain, they are often not doing the NAIT transfers in a timely or accurate manner.
I bought 60 bulls from the sales in December and to date only about half have been transfered to me.

Sorting out NAIT is pretty far down my list of priorities at this time of the year so it will have to wait until I run everything through the yards in about May for TB testing where I will scan everything and use the NAIT stocktake feature to get everything I am missing transferred to my NAIT number.

It would be helpful if it were more accurate, and more information about the animal could be transfered to allow an animals history to follow it beyond the farm gate.
I was tagging a new R2 jersey bull recently and he had 2 ear punch holes from being BVD tested, and I had to add a 3rd hole and test him again so that I have proof for my clients that the bull has tested negative for BVD.
I also have to assume everything has not been vaccinated for BVD either and vaccinate each bull twice to ensure they are immunised, which is such a waste of time and money that could be avoided if more information was available.

They were doomed from the start.I purchased 35 bulls but Nait only changed 34 into my name even though I had the full 35 on their site.
The data base is too small and it would cost a fortune to upgrade. Lets just end the experiment and move on from what is a total mess and go back to what we had before.

I think the whole thing is too complicated to be accurate, it relies on too many people to do a job where many of them couldn't care less. The freezing companies didn't want it , the farmers didn't want it. The NAIT workers couldn't care less, so long as it's created a job for themselves., it's a joke. If it's not completely accurate it's a waste of money and not worth having.

How many cattle going out to grazing have their movement recorded by NAIT? Anecdotally I hear very few.

Who did want it, Meat and Lamb, SFF and a couple of the corporate boys.

NAIT should be is a waste of money....we are having to go back to our old herd tagging and recording system as a back-up.

All the comments here seem to think that there is a problem with NAIT.
There is nothing wrong with it!
It just that a load of old, computer illiterate farmers(and stock agents) cannot get their heads around it and cannot be arsed to do the right thing.
Just a lack of professionalism in farming.

I have been told by an expert in RFID that the frequency that NAIT use is wrong for what they need to do. Apparently NAIT designers were told but decided they new better. (By the way finite, farmers these days need to be technology literate, not necessarily computer literate. Some may not be able to use an Excel spreadsheet well, but they can control their effluent and irrigation systems from the app on their phone and programme and use precision farming equipment e.g. GPS steered tractors with ease)

What an absolute load of unprofessional bollocks you work for NAIT or something?

Really finite? I buy 4 day old calves. Its impossible to get the dairy farmers to tag them before you leave farm. They are too busy. So I end up with tags a month or two later and put them in ANY ear. Breakdown on day one isnt it. Illiterate, no. Just busy busy dairy farmers. Buying from saleyards I would guess 25% of the calves nait numbers dont come thru to my nait number. Dont know why. All I know is it isnt working.
I have checked with stock agents who say the same. Personally I would prefer to go back to the AHB tags. At least you could read the number without a microscope or machine.

If you try reading the tags with a hand reader, some of them read when you are 1 ft away, whilst others require that the reader be 1cm away to get them to read. The tags themselves are rubbish. When they are running cattle through fixed readers at saleyards some of them just don't read. Should these sorts of issues be the agent or farmers problem?

I also found out once that they will read the microchip in your dog if it walks too close to the scanner, took me a while to figure out why I had more scanned tags than bulls!

Also in another case a bull brought from the sales had 2 NAIT EID tags, one in each ear.
Ended up cutting one out so at least he should be recorded beter now.