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Defra aims to develop digital for livestock management

13/10/16

Information programme leader points to need for more real time data to support industry

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is looking at how it can support the livestock industry in developing new digital systems for supporting trade and managing the threat of animal diseases.

CowsSimon Hall, director of the Defra Livestock Information Programme, has outlined its thinking in a blogpost based on perceptions of the Cattle Industry Data Exchange Project.

Partly funded by Defra, the project is aimed at identifying how the better use and sharing of data could support risk based trading in the industry – where anyone buying an animal could see details of its provenance, movements, ownership, health status and links to farm assurance schemes.

Hall says that Defra has to work out ways of reliably sharing data from its identification and tracking services for livestock in real time, and that the industry has a “massive hunger” for reliable data. There have been indications that the meat processing sector wants to go entirely over to digital as quickly as possible, removing all paper from its processes.

NI example

He points to the operations of Agri-Food Northern Ireland as an example of linking state owned data with industry information to provide real time pictures of performance. This has provided the basis for benchmarking that has led to improvements in performance.

In addition, Brexit is providing an opportunity for everyone in the industry to think differently about how it works, including its information provision.

While not providing details of how this will be progressed, Hall says there is a clear link with Defra’s work on livestock information.

“There are many IT systems associated with livestock information, some of which are very old (green screen — I kid you not), and others more recent,” he says. “Services operate distinctly for different species, and there is no single way of accessing, using or supplying data.

“Given that this information is used to help manage the threat of animal disease and to enable trade, there is definitely room for improvement.”

He points to two main challenges in making this possible: building an understanding of what data is available to which groups and how; and making the case for a “digital first, data rich approach”.

“To make good on this ambitious vision we will need to engage broadly, be smart in our tactics and keep taking small, iterative steps towards the big goal,” he says.

Image by Sam Wise - Brize Norton Cows, CC BY-SA 2.0

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