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Norfolk farmer is steering £282,000 project to create cattle ‘search engine’

Cattle pictured at Scarning, near Dereham. Picture: Matthew Usher

Cattle pictured at Scarning, near Dereham. Picture: Matthew Usher

© Archant Norfolk 2015

A project to develop a “search engine” which could streamline the exchange of cattle information across the supply chain has been launched after securing £282,000 of government funding.

The 12-month feasibility project is being co-ordinated by the beef and dairy divisions of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).

West Norfolk farmer John Cross is chairing the steering group for the project, which incorporates more than 20 collaborators including industry databases, farm management software suppliers, auction market and abattoir system providers.

He said the aim is to create a prototype software system which can streamline data exchange and allow cattle farmers and traders to access information – currently stored separately across government, industry and private databases – through a single portal.

Mr Cross, who has a mixed farm at Sedgeford near Hunstanton, including a South Devon suckler herd, said: “This is a really exciting opportunity, where industry itself has taken the initiative to develop what has been needed for a very long time. It has the potential to increase operating efficiency, reduce farmer cost and increase our capacity to control economically-important diseases.

“Everyone had a pre-formed idea that a cattle database would cost millions of pounds to run. But when we started to think about it, we don’t need a massive database. The data is already captured – so what we need is a search engine.

“We have got a phenomenal amount of data but it sits in seven different pots, and they don’t talk to each other. Everything we need to facilitate informed trade is already there. We just need to be able to find it.

“On any ear tag now there is so much information, and this search engine could dip into all seven of those information pots and up would come the transactional life history, the disease status, the parentage, and when and where the animal had been.”

Mr Cross retired this week after 13 years as chairman of the English beef and lamb sector board (Eblex), but he still chairs the government’s Bovine TB Eradication Group.

He said: “It is very difficult to bear down on diseases like bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD), Johnes disease and bovine TB (bTB) unless you have the information. With this new system, people would be able to make an informed choice on the cattle they are buying.”

The grant was awarded by the Agri-tech Catalyst fund, run jointly by Innovate UK and research councils.

The project partnership includes the National Farmers Union (NFU), Livestock Auctioneers’ Association (LAA), British Meat Processors’ Association (BMPA), British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) and Cattle Health and Welfare Group (CHAWG).

Are you pioneering an agricultural innovation? Contact chris.hill@archant.co.uk.

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