NAIT now legal - but developers quiet on ICT readiness

Developer Fronde declines to comment on whether the system is close to completion

The legal basis has been laid for the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) system, with the passing of enabling legislation through its last stages in February. However, the readiness of the technology is still unclear.

Developer Fronde, tasked with rescuing the IT aspects of the NAIT system from a false start last year, now declines to comment on how close to completion the system is.

NAIT CEO Russell Burnard also declines to be pinned down on the current readiness of the system’s technical aspects, but the NAIT scheme as a whole will be ready to meet its deadlines, he says. Voluntary participants have been preparing to move into the scheme since the beginning of February, he says. The system will be ready to accept eartag and slaughter data by May and animal movement data by July.

“The functionality [of the scheme and its supporting computer systems] is building towards those target dates,” Burnard says. Over the month of February, 1600 dairy and beef farmers registered on the system, he says. NAIT will become compulsory for cattle farmers of any scale on July 1 and for deer farming on March 1, 2013.

Early voluntary acceptance is encouraging, Burnard says. “There is now less of an anti-lobby than there was, but we appreciate that some people will still have to be dragged in kicking and screaming.”

According to Federated Farmers spokesman Anders Crofoot, writing on the organisation’s website on February 9, the scheme was then “still undergoing usability trials”. Crofoot did not return calls in late February seeking an update.

“The reality is that thousands of farms are yet to tool up, along with carriage firms, stock yards and potentially even, some processing plants,” he wrote. “NAIT is getting there but there is a heck of a lot of work to be done before and after its launch.”

However, contacting Computerworld in early March, he took a more positive tone. “I’m a bit happier now that it’s all moving in the right direction,” he says.

He also says owners of New Zealand’s 175,000 lifestyle blocks have responded better than he was expecting to NAIT publicity and are registering on the system. In February he wrote of the danger of “hundreds of thousands of stock ‘off the grid’... NAIT risks resembling Swiss cheese if we don’t ensure compliance on these lifestyle blocks,” he warned.

Fronde was engaged last year to redevelop the ICT side of the system, following the collapse of a plan to base it on Australia’s National Livestock Information System (NLIS) (Computerworld, September 9, 2011). The termination of this arrangement was on commercial, not technical grounds, NAIT chairman Ted Coats said at the time.

Questions still hang over some technical aspects of the system, such as the RFID eartags’ and readers’ use of VHF signals, which limit the scanning range, so animals have to be scanned individually; a more up-to-date higher-frequency UHF system, critics suggest, could allow multiple animals to be scanned simultaneously from the other side of a yard. Crofoot, however, says he is satisfied NAIT is working on “protocols” to move farms across smoothly to UHF when the technology is “mature” enough.

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