Washington dairies are not using an online system to report cow sales, apparently leaving a hole in the state Department of Agriculture’s ability to trace the source and spread of livestock diseases, according to a new report.
The WSDA report released Aug. 29 says only one of the state’s nearly 400 diaries has used the system, which the department set up at the beginning of 2016 at the industry’s request to help producers meet reporting requirements.
“Sometimes new things are slow to catch on,” Washington State Dairy Federation Executive Director Dan Wood said. “It’s in everybody’s interest to report transactions.”
WSDA launched the system at the same time it began requiring dairies to report all sales of unbranded female cows.
Previously, sales of 15 or fewer head didn’t have to be reported. WSDA says it needs to track all cows to respond quickly to disease outbreaks and minimize economic damage to the cattle industry.
The system, seen as a more convenient and cheaper alternative to in-person brand inspections, has gone unused despite “extensive outreach,” according to WSDA. The department mailed postcards and letters to dairies, posted information online and handed out fact sheets at dairy conferences.
Seven dairies registered to use the system. One dairy reported two sales involving a total of 31 cows, according to the report.
The report did not say whether dairies have been reporting sales through the more-expensive brand-inspection program. Further information from WSDA was unavailable Thursday. The department estimates electronic reporting will cost producers half as much as brand inspections in some cases.
WSDA said in its report that it will work with the industry to “increase awareness that the do-nothing approach is no longer viable.”
WSDA spent $15,000 to develop the system and says it will cost $1,500 a year to maintain. So far, the system has collected $40 in fees. “It is apparent that licensed dairy producers are not using (electronic reporting) as an alternative to livestock brand inspections,” according to the report. “Without increased use, the program cannot continue to operate (electronic reporting) at a loss.”
Wood said the dairy federation will continue to promote electronic reporting.
“It’s a great opportunity that I think people will get comfortable with in time and needs to remain an option,” he said.
Cattle Producers of Washington President Scott Nielsen said the electronic-reporting system has failed to live up to the dairy industry’s promises.
“I don’t really like to beat up on our dairy producers,” he said. “They have it worse than we do as far as having (government) oversight on their operations.”
Still, he said, “if you’re trying to do animal-disease traceability, you better need to know where those animals are going. ... They (state agriculture officials) need to put dairies under the brand department.”
Fees on cattle sales also fund the Washington Beef Commission and WSDA’s brand-inspection program. Both the commission and WSDA say the fees are not keeping up with expenses.
Washington Cattle Feeders Association Executive Director Jack Field said he was disappointed electronic reporting hasn’t been used more, but that he hopes WSDA doesn’t give up on the system. Some in the beef industry are interested in using electronic reporting, he said.
“It may have a spot in the future,” Field said. “I would hate to just scrap it.
“Obviously, the outreach was not as effective as it could have been,” he said. “I’m not going to call it a failure. I’m going to call it an opportunity to learn.”
To report sales, dairy producers register online with WSDA.
“I haven’t heard any negatives about it,” Wood said.
WSDA compiled the report at the request of the Legislature.