Washington beef ranchers can now report cattle sales online, providing they use electronic ear tags, a way of tracking livestock resisted by some producers as labor intensive and intrusive.
The state Department of Agriculture touts “electronic cattle transaction reporting” as cheaper and easier than calling out a state inspector to verify ownership.
The system was launched this month and shown to industry representatives. “It looks as simple as ordering something on Amazon,” said Danny DeFranco, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association.
The department inspects sales to prevent theft and record cattle movements. The department hopes online reporting will hold down its costs and help it quickly identify cattle exposed to disease.
The agriculture department has allowed dairy farmers to electronically report sales of unbranded cows for several years. The Legislature this year extended the option to beef ranchers selling branded cattle.
Agriculture Director Derek Sandison said in a statement that expanding the system is a “major step toward simplifying and streamlining reporting requirements.”
“It demonstrates important progress toward synchronizing the industry and government with today’s technology,” he said.
Electronic reporting is not mandatory. Ranchers can still call out state brand inspectors. While electronic reporting has been virtually unused by dairy farmers, DeFranco said he expects beef producers to try it.
“Essentially everything is the same, except we have this other option,” he said. “Like any new thing, it will take some time to get some traction.”
The USDA has backed off requiring electronic ear tags on cattle moving between states. Last month, the Trump administration canceled plans to make the tags mandatory by 2023.
The USDA’s position has been that tracking a cow from birth to slaughter by electronic tags would help contain animal diseases and protect producers from trade sanctions. Critics said the technology was unproven and would require producers to report every time they move a cow from one place to another.
Cattle Producers of Washington President Scott Nielsen said the organization supports electronic reporting, as long as it’s voluntary.
“We’ll continue to resist the mandatory implementation,” he said. “We’re really pleased to see what’s happening at the national level.”
To use the electronic system, ranchers must obtain a “premises identification number,” pinpointing where they have cows. Each cow must be fitted with a USDA-approved 840 radio frequency identification tag.
Ranchers pay an annual fee of $33 to use ECTR. The per-head fee is $1.30.
For in-person inspections, ranchers pay a $20 call out fee, plus mileage, and a per-head fee of $1.21.
To promote the system, the department is giving away electronic tags. Producers with herds of 50 head or fewer are eligible to receive 40 tags. Those with herds of more than 50 qualify for 100 tags.
Lawmakers also approved allowing self-employed field inspectors to supplement state inspectors.
The inspectors must be trained by the department and not have a financial stake in the sales. No one has applied to be certified, a department spokesman said Tuesday.