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BIXS can track carcass data: Just the cost is unknown

Ownership of carcass information is one of the challenges BIXSco Inc. has had to address as it works toward creating a business model for information sharing across value chains and the industry at large.

Packers have always had the option of charging half the grading fee back to producers who rail grade cattle. Even if a packer foots the entire bill for grading or buys the cattle outright on a live basis, does that mean the packer owns the carcass data?

Or do the producers own the grade by virtue of their mandatory investment in tags to identify their animals? Many cow-calf producers believe the promise of carcass data was implied with the introduction of mandatory individual animal identification.

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cattle in a feedlot

Then again, feedlots tailor their feeding programs to achieve the best grade possible for the class of cattle in each pen, so maybe they own the grade?

Based on discussions so far, BIXSco senior vice-president Deb Wilson says they are leaning toward a business model that whomever enters information into the BIXS system owns it. And anyone who wants this information must pay for it, plus a small transaction fee to BIXSco Inc. to keep the system afloat.

This is a business model, she says, that could create new revenue streams for each sector. Producers, for example, could learn how to leverage their investment in tags and all of the health and production information they attach to those tags.

As it stands, the BIXS database contains carcass records for fed cattle processed at the Brooks, High River and Guelph plants in 2011 and 2012. The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association paid for this data when developing BIXS, so that information remains free to anyone who enrols in BIXS.

The flow of carcass data stopped on January 1, 2013, when the grant funding BIXS development expired, Then in early 2015 the software firm ViewTrak Technologies partnered with the CCA to create BIXSco Inc. and a feasible business plan for the new company.

“The McDonald’s sustainable beef pilot project was really the impetus that got negotiations with packers back on track,” says Wilson. “Our role in the project was to track the chain of custody from cow-calf producers, to the feedlots, to the Cargill and JBS plants in Alberta that supply trim to the pattie plant at Spruce Grove, which supplies all of the patties for McDonald’s burgers in Canada.”

Both plants willingly shared chain of custody information free of charge.

Using this data BIXSco Inc. has demonstrated that the system does work. Data for eight million pounds of hot-carcass weight were gathered with 300,000 pounds of it going into the McDonald’s system to account for approximately 2.4 million burgers from a fully verified sustainable supply chain.

Counting the operations enrolled in the McDonald’s pilot and other participants as of early July, BIXS had recorded 1,782,529 births, 126,561 moves into background operations, and 999,422 into feedlots and 2,922,314 carcass records.

BIXSco Inc. now has a signed agreement with Cargill for carcass data from the High River, Alta. and Guelph, Ont. plants from the start of 2013. The company is currently holding that information in trust to protect Cargill’s privacy, until at least one other packer is on board. Negotiations for carcass data from JBS at Brooks, Alta., and Harmony Beef, the new plant just north of Calgary were still underway as of mid-September.

“Our position negotiating with plants is to let primary producers see what they are producing so that they will be able to breed for a better carcass. I believe that packers understand and believe without a doubt that primary producers can impact carcass quality and yield. The challenge is finding a starting point — what producers are willing to pay and what packers will sell it for,” Wilson says.

Remember, BIXS is not just about carcass information, she adds. It also serves as a neutral third-party to facilitate information sharing. It can be used to verify chain of custody, track records on protocols for branded beef programs and highlight programs that producers follow on the farm, such as VBP+ (the feedlot animal care program), environmental farm plans, sustainability criteria, and general management practices. This management list can include rations, health programs, animal handling protocols, as well as genetic and production records. Reporting and benchmarking functions in the software can summarize data by category to aid in making management decisions and marketing the cattle, or the beef.

Currently, BIXSco Inc. is in discussions with several organizations and companies on uses of the BIXS database. These include the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency to facilitate the tracking of cattle when nationwide traceability becomes a reality and Verified Beef Production in tracking animals on the new VBP+ system. McDonald’s also wants to continue sourcing sustainable beef and pharmaceutical companies are interested in BIXS as a way for producers to track vaccination programs.

“Everyone agrees that information sharing is good. Those walls of resistance are dropping down. The question is how to pay for BIXS and not make cost an issue. We envision that every part of the industry will pay a bit,” says Wilson.

“This is our opportunity. Canada’s beef industry has the tools and genetics to create something no other country in the world has. Canada Beef has done a great job creating the global brand for Canadian beef: now we just need to verify the practices backing the brand.”

It will likely be fall before new carcass data will start flowing into BIXS. In the meantime, check out the new website at bixs.cattle.ca to stay abreast of the changes as they occur.

There is no charge to enrol, enter your information or explore the revamped database to learn how BIXS could work for you.

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