Fewer than 1,000 producers have signed up for the second go-round of a beleaguered cattle-tracking system — even though it’s free and designed to boost their bottom line.
The Beef InfoXchange System (BIXS) is also intended to be the foundation for the “verified sustainable beef” initiative that McDonald’s is piloting in Canada.
At the recent Livestock Gentec Conference, program administrator Holly LaBrie made a pitch for producers to sign up — and warned of the consequences if there isn’t a sharp increase in uptake.
“We know McDonald’s and A&W are looking for this information because they’re asking for it,” said LaBrie. “They’re beating down the door for the information, but if we don’t put it in there, then BIXS will die. So we need you to be there and be using it.”
Larry Thomas, national co-ordinator of the program, refused to say exactly how many producers have enrolled in BIXS 2.0, other than it’s between 500 and 1,000. But he also said those numbers need to jump dramatically.
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“Nothing can live forever if no one is using it,” Thomas said in an interview. “It hasn’t reached the critical mass that I’d like to see. A system like BIXS needs users.”
But Thomas said he’s not “overly worried” because the second version of the program, BIXS 2.0, has not been heavily promoted since being given a soft launch in late March.
A reliable and easy-to-use database to capture cattle information from pasture to packing plant is considered by many to be critical to the future success of the Canadian beef sector, and was one of the key recommendations of the Straw Man Beef Industry Initiative task force.
“It is imperative that the common repository be operational, efficient and sustainable,” the task force said in its December report, Building a Stronger Canadian Beef Industry.
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The report also stated that “to be functional, a target of two million calves per year of quality, accurate producer, feedlot and carcass data by 2015 has been suggested.”
“We’d like to be further ahead with it,” said Dennis Laycraft, executive director of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA).
He said senior McDonald’s officials have reviewed the program and the system can capture the data the company needs for its pilot program. The goal of the original system was to collect information such as age verification and vaccination records while giving producers carcass data to help them refine their breeding and management programs. By adding other information — such as a ranch’s environmental stewardship and animal welfare efforts — BIXS 2.0 could meet the goals of McDonald’s, the largest buyer of Canadian beef. The company wants to show consumers that its beef comes from animals that are treated humanely and raised in a way that does not harm the environment.
“We believe there’s just so much demand out there for information,” said Laycraft. “We’re in the strongest position in the world as a country with what we’ve been doing on the quality and food safety side. If we can attach that to the animal records — that’s where a system like BIXS comes in — we will position ourselves probably as strongly as any beef-producing country in the world.
“It would be very disappointing if we’re not able to get that.”
He said he remains optimistic BIXS 2.0 will be successful, but added “it has to be a system that attracts a significant amount of usage to justify its existence.”
Not only do large customers such as A&W and McDonald’s want to know how producers raise their cattle and to be able to access cattle management data, so does the European Union, said Dave Solverson, CCA president.
“I’m thinking we’ll see an increase in uptake when producers see direct value,” said Solverson. “As these new markets require certain things to be done, and identified, that will necessitate involvement in BIXS.”
The revamped BIXS 2.0 is also greatly improved, and is both easier to use and much faster, Laycraft, Thomas, and LaBrie said.
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association has been working with software developer Arcurve to fix bugs during the soft launch phase. The database can track age verification, husbandry data, vaccination data, tombstone data and genetic tests.
Users have been impressed by how easy the new version is to use, and its adaptability, said Laycraft.
Users of BIXS 1.0 will find all of their data in the new system, added Thomas.
“The first time someone logs in, they haven’t even done anything and all their carcass data is there,” he said.
However, there are still some issues to work out.
The process of validating a producer’s account and transferring the data is relatively slow. The database only contains three million carcass records and the CCA is still searching for packing information. As well, any supplier who wants cattle using BIXS has to contact LaBrie, who searches and then finds the results. This process will eventually be automated, but that’s still in the works.
Most of the kinks will be ironed out soon and the system will be given a full launch sometime this fall, said Thomas.
Even in its current form, the system offers real value to cattle producers, said Laycraft.
“The greatest benefit to the individual producer will be having more information attached to the animals, and getting more information back on how the animals perform,” he said.