Computers determine the quality of meat on your dinner plate, long before it turns up on the doorstep of your butcher, and the increasing uptake of technology in the meat industry means armers across the country are liberating themselves from the global financial crisis, the ravages of drought and other environmental problems.
Terms like MySQL, SAP, RFID and Bluetooth are no longer reserved for big business in the confines of towering metropolitan office blocks, but rather the use of this technology is increasing out bush. Gone are the days where farmers rely on tattoo numbers, bits of paper and their memory to keep track of their livestock.
From data collaboration to social networking to NASA satellites, farmers continuously require better information systems and data to work with in order to manage their business. In this five-part series, Computerworld investigates the technological innovations shaping Australian farming.
Part Two: New technology guards food from feral animals br> Part Three: View from space: Satellite farming for greener pastures br> Part Four: A greener environment through better data management
Driven by government compliance and business financials, specialised software and RFID technology, being touted as 100 percent accurate, are being used within Australia’s livestock industry.
In order for beef and cattle farmers to get their products into various markets around the world they must comply with requirements for food safety, tracing their livestock from birth. This requirement, enforced by the National Livestock Identification Scheme, has resulted in a very high level of innovation throughout the industry.
“Every animal that’s born on a beef industry farm is already programmed into a marketplace. By putting RFID electronic tags in their ears, farmers can trace every movement of the animals, every paddock they move to, every treatment they have, their genetics, breeding and performance,” said former farmer Hugh Beattie and now, director of business development at Armidale, New South Wales-based farming software company Practical Systems.
Through a genetic selection system, such as Practical Systems’ Breed Plan software, farmers can use the data stored on an animal’s RFID tag to determine breeding habits and the probabilities of livestock inheriting certain traits, crucial in the international marketplace.
“An animal that has bigger muscles can produce more beef, so at birth we can determine how a calf will perform, based on the genetic data of its parents. So therefore this animal might go into a feed lot or it might be fattened quickly and sold to the restaurant trade. Or it might be what they call a long feed to go into the Japanese market,” Beattie said.
At birth, and throughout their entire time on the farm, each animal is measured, for weight and body size. The measuring is no longer a hands-on task, but produced through a live computer scan, which also shows statistics like muscle size and body fat.
“Farmers use the technology to actually look at all these traits then they put them into a computer program where it works out unique index figures based around the market requirement,” Beattie said .
New South Wales-based farmer and Breed Plan software user Glenn Trout for the past decade says, through his experience, “you only get out of the system what you put in.”
“The software is by far the easiest I have encountered for someone who doesn’t profess to be a computer guru. Farmers are pretty hard to change in their ways, but because the software helps such a range of farming enterprises, it’s invaluable to modern day breeding,” said Trout, who manages a beef cattle enterprise consisting of 250 animals.