Certification programs create need for more farm data

Transparency certification can help assure farmers about data usage

AgSights, the producer-owned Ontario co-operative behind the Go360 bioTrack livestock tracking system, has achieved Ag Data Transparent certification.

It’s the third organization in Canada to be awarded this designation, which means the organization is open and transparent about its data policies.

Why it matters: Increasing amounts of data are being collected on farms across Canada every day, leading to questions about ownership of that data and what is being done with it.

Go360 bioTrack, AgSights’ flagship program, helps farmers track everything from livestock inventory numbers and animal movements to pedigree, reproduction, health, and body condition scoring information. The system is available for beef, dairy, bison, goat and sheep farmers.

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“We collect a lot of data, and getting this certification forced us to put on paper what we were already doing anyway,” said AgSights general manager Mike McMorris. “This is pretty new but I think it’s going to be important.”

The Ag Data Transparent Seal of Approval is issued by Ag Data Transparency Evaluator Inc., whose development was led by the American Farm Bureau when the organization realized many of its members had concerns about data privacy and security.

Go360 bioTrack had its start about a decade ago in beef genetics testing with Beef Improvement Ontario, most recently rebranded as AgSights. Partnerships with other agricultural organizations helped expand the program over the years.

Today, with greater interest in on-farm food safety and stricter rules around antimicrobial use in livestock, the system’s traceability capabilities are starting to present value for farmers.

It has the ability, for example, to manage health-related activities like tracking when vaccines and medications were administered and withdrawal times.

“You can easily manage scripts through this; any producer will be wise to start documenting antimicrobial use,” McMorris said. “You can assign the vet an access to your system. It is also useful for auditing. For example, every data point you need to capture through the Verified Beef Plus program is in this system.”

The Go360 bioTrack system can be customized by users based on their needs. A base version tracks inventory numbers. A slightly more robust version also tracks animal movements from farm to farm or from farm to market.

Additional options to track reproduction, weight and feet and udder scores can be added too. Animals can be managed individually or in groups, and the system offers offline access, which means it can be used on mobile devices even when the user is outside of cell range.

The latest version of Go360 bioTrack formally went live at the end of October this year and currently has about 60 users across the different livestock species it serves. About 60 per cent of users are beef farmers, 25 per cent produce goats and 15 per cent raise sheep.

Laura Smith raises meat goats near Bentley, Alta., and she’s been using various versions of the system for six years. She runs 300 to 400 mature does in a combination pasture-feedlot finishing system, and also sells breeding stock.

She realized early in her farming career that very little goat-related data existed and there was no easy way to manage data when it did exist. Smith tried unsuccessfully to track her herd information in multiple notebooks before eventually turning to Go360 bioTrack.

“I wanted to be able to sell good quality animals for breeding stock,” she explained, adding she particularly likes being able to track expected progeny differences for her goats through the system. “EPD gives me an idea of what I will get when I breed a buck and a doe and this is important for buyers. I am able to track weights and average daily gains and I can tell buyers with confidence how many kids will be ready at a certain time.”

“Sustainable beef in the West is attracting a premium and Atlantic Beef Products are paying more for animals with documentation, so the marketing is finally starting to pull this,” McMorris said.

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