Streamlining the electronic connection of farm gate to plate

Real-time proof of meat origins will give confidence to overseas customers and at the same time streamline farmers' work, writes Natalie Bowie.

Farmers can now send off their electronic Animal Status Declarations the night before livestock are collected, with any ...

Farmers can now send off their electronic Animal Status Declarations the night before livestock are collected, with any minor corrections able to be made in the yards, directly from their smartphone.

Two new initiatives to connect overseas meat buyers with the New Zealand farm animal their meat came from are being introduced.

They come from several forward-thinking meat processors, alongside Beef + Lamb NZ, and are aimed at building confidence in New Zealand's red meat sector from farm gate to plate. They will also drive benefits for farmers.

The electronic Animal Status Declaration (eASD) and the New Zealand Farm Assurance Programme (NZFAP) have been developed under the Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP) following an extensive trial.

The NZ Farm Assurance Programme is the first time the meat industry has worked together on one single national baseline ...
NEIL HALL

The NZ Farm Assurance Programme is the first time the meat industry has worked together on one single national baseline standard to fit all requirements of overseas customers such as UK retailers Sainsbury's, Tesco and Marks & Spencer.

The ultimate vision is to provide assurances to customers in markets around the world on where the meat they buy comes from by connecting them with the animals via an online network.

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eASD has been developed by RMPP in conjunction with Ospri.  It's an electronic version of the current Animal Status Declaration forms.

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Seventy farmer suppliers to Silver Fern Farms' Finegand plant (near Balclutha, Otago) took part in a trial of the new eASD.  The trial saw cattle and sheep logged into the eASD system by the farmers.  This follows a successful initial proof of concept study completed last year by Anzco Foods, Greenlea Premier Meats and Progressive Meats.

By mid-July, the eASD programme already had 80 users registered, who have created 418 eASDs, covering 117,951 livestock (6361 cattle, 111,590 sheep).

Following the trial, eASD is now available to all farmers who supply RMPP partners for farm to processor movements and, with the support of Deer Industry New Zealand (DINZ), eASD will also soon be available to all deer plants.  Silver Fern Farms is also planning a wider rollout to additional plants and three further RMPP partners, Greenlea, Anzco Foods and Progressive Meats, are planning to adopt eASD in the coming months.

eASD will be available to the whole of New Zealand's farming community, not just the red meat sector, says Greenlea livestock buyer Greg Clark. He's been involved with eASD since the Waikato-based meat processor participated in the original eASD pilot.

The company already has 15 suppliers in the eASD system, which he says gives a lot more process surety and reduces errors.

"It has checks and balances meaning there is a lot less time involved in fixing mistakes as with the paper-based system," he says.

Although it takes a little time to enter information the first time around, Clark says the system saves his supplier farmers' precious time in the long-run, as farm details are retained and automatically replicated.  It also means they're no longer tied to the office. Farmers can now send off the eASDs the night before livestock are collected, with any minor corrections able to be made in the yards, directly from their smartphone.

Rural broadband coverage is a lot better than it was, says Clark. But the system allows information to be collected offline, ready to be uploaded as soon as the device is back in Internet range.

"It's advantageous with the way things are starting to go around movement of animals and it also links into RMPP's new farm assurance programme," he says.

Bec McNutt, from Progressive Meats' livestock department, is also getting set up for the next stage of the programme.  She echoes Clark's views, especially relating to the omission of errors in the new system.

"It saves time for the farmer and for our processing. Trying to get a replacement ASD, for correction of or missing details, when the farmer is unreachable out on farm can be a real problem for us," she says.

McNutt's looking at getting 20 selected Progressive Meats lamb suppliers using eASD in the first instance, but she expects that to build rapidly, and for beef suppliers to the toll processor to be added.   "We see the lamb eASD system working efficiently for both the suppliers and our on-plant process," she says.

"It's a very exciting project to be involved in.  It fits with Progressive Meats' ethos for being innovative and we believe it will add value for our farmers."

Ryan Foley, a sheep and beef farmer from Omakere in Hawke's Bay who supplies Progressive Meats, said: "For a long time we have been wanting something like this and it's great that it is finally here, it is so much better than carrying an ASD book around.

"If I couldn't be there to fill it in, then one of my shepherds would have to, not to mention trying to keep it clean and dry out in the elements; they are at times a real nuisance.

"The eASD is instant and convenient and we are pleased to see it happening.  We don't have WIFI at the yards but it works offline so as soon as I am back home it uploads all of the information."

But, identification and movement is just one part of the jigsaw for the New Zealand meat industry. They lock neatly into place with the new NZ Farm Assurance Programme (NZFAP) launched last October, explains NZFAP project manager Pat Turton. As a farm assurance programme specialist across several species, he's been seconded to the organisation from audit, inspection, farm assurance, and laboratory specialists AsureQuality.

Farm assurance programmes are not new to New Zealand's red meat processors and farmers, who have worked for many years with their customers around the world on different schemes. But this is the first time the New Zealand meat industry has worked together on one single national baseline standard to fit all requirements.

A number of red meat and venison processors have collaborated with MPI, Beef + Lamb NZ and DINZ on the new scheme in conjunction with AsureQuality, which provides services to overseas customers such as UK retailers Sainsbury's, Tesco and Marks & Spencer.

Markets are driving the need for assurances on where their food comes from, that it is safe and produced in an environmentally sustainable way, Turton explains.

A major benefit for farmers supplying several companies is that they'll no longer need to be inspected by multiple meat company assurance programmes. One NZFAP audit, repeated at regular intervals, will satisfy all requirements.

The first 16 audits through NZFAP have just been completed by AsureQuality and went well, according to Turton.

He reports very positive feedback from the first batch of audited farmers: "One said, 'The process was straightforward and the best part of it was that NZFAP qualified the farm for a number of companies, not just one. It is good that everyone is on the same page'."

He also said that eASD and the NZFAP further strengthens the origin and traceability assurances.

"Instead of a piece of paper chucked into a filing cabinet, they provide real-time proof of identity and animal movements from birth to processor. That helps manage key risks for the meat industry," says Turton.

Currently, there are six meat companies participating in the NZFAP – Anzco Foods, Silver Fern Farms, Greenlea Premier Meats, Progressive Meats and its two subsidiaries Te Kuiti Meats and Ovation. Turton says the aim is to have six more signed up by the end of this year.

RMPP general manager Michael Smith says that while it will take some time for farmers and the companies to change their systems to fit eASD/NZFAP requirements, he expects the roll-out to really gather speed over the next 12 months, with the sector changing "exponentially" over the next three to five years.

"It's a win-win. eASD and the NZFAP is a win for farmers and a win for processors, and very positive for consumers too."

Both eASD and the NZFAP provide proof of the integrity of the supply chain from pasture to plate and are a key component of New Zealand's Red Meat Story, the sector's new marketing programme being developed, according to Beef + Lamb NZ general manager market development Nick Beeby.

"New Zealand already has a very good reputation for food safety and integrity. eASD and the NZ Farm Assurance Programme, both a big hit with farmers, give existing and potential customers even more confidence In New Zealand's systems and processes, including food safety, animal welfare, integrity and traceability," he says.

 - Stuff

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