No more beta tests, pilots, soft launches or sequels. It’s full bore ahead for Beef InfoXchange System (BIXS) from here on in. The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and ViewTrak Technologies are teaming up to form a new company with the provisional name of BIXSCO, that will work with industry partners to take BIXS to the next level.
The new company is headed by president and CEO Hubert Lau and executive vice-president Ted Power, both of ViewTrak, working with a five-member board of directors that will include two representatives from each organization and a mutual appointee. BIXS staff will transfer from the CCA to the new company and BIXS will retain its name and original vision as development continues.
The CCA founded BIXS in 2008 to support the Canadian Beef Advantage branding initiative. It’s free, voluntary and confidential, designed for cow-calf producers, feedlots, packers and now, further processors and distributors, to track and share relevant animal production, performance, health, genetic, carcass and other information with whomever they choose for management and marketing purposes. The pilot was launched in fall 2010 and limped along until it was laid to rest at the end of 2013. A lighter, more user-friendly BIXS 2.0 emerged in spring 2014 at which time the three million carcass records and 3.4 animal birth records were transferred from the old to new. Uptake by producers continued to be disheartening with fewer than 1,000 users signed on by fall 2014, when administrators said BIXS 2.0 would go the same way as its predecessor if couldn’t attract many more users.
“Kudos to CCA for having the vision, taking it this far and recognizing it’s time to move stewardship of the program forward,” Lau says. “The new company will combine the best of breeds — CCA’s experience, connections and understanding of the beef industry and ViewTrak’s entrepreneurship, technology and creativity.”
Lau and Power, whose roles are reversed with ViewTrak, know what “taking it to the next level” means. ViewTrak itself has forged ahead since June 2012, when Marc de La Bruyere, chair of a large residential real estate development group, and W. Brett Wilson, entrepreneur and former “Dragons’ Den” dragon, purchased the Edmonton-based company. ViewTrak now has offices in Alberta, Ontario, the U.S., New Mexico, Japan and China working with clients to customize hardware and software solutions for product tracking and quality assurance. In the North American beef industry, the company is best known for cow-calf, feedlot, auction market, and packer/processor software management systems.
The next level for BIXS starts with what Lau calls collaborative economics. “All of the who, what, why, when and where questions have been answered along the way, but no one has asked ‘how — how will this help us make more money?’” he explains. “The how must get answered, so we will go back and listen to what producers, feedlots, packers and retailers say about the value to them and work together to achieve the value they expect.
“Timing is good because big companies are now asking for production information to assure their own customers of certain beef attributes, but there’s no time to lose. If we move quickly, we will have an impact at the global level as a whole. Now is the time to lock arms and get it done. The faster people hop on board and the more people on the system, the more developmental work we can do.”
BIXS stays open for business as usual while development under the new company continues. Whether you are already on BIXS or participating for the first time, the process remains the same.
The framework for working together envisions that joining BIXS and some of the program components will be free but at the end of the day after all of the “how” questions regarding value have been discussed, there will be a fee for certain features and services.
One of those fees will likely be for carcass data. The CCA had worked out a cost-share agreement to secure carcass data from the packers for BIXS, and BIXS 2.0.
While many details on BIXS operation are yet to be completed, any further funding of BIXS will be backed by ViewTrak.
The initial funding to develop BIXS came from the federal Agricultural Flexibility Fund, and more recently from the industry’s own Canadian Beef and Cattle Market Development Fund or “Legacy Fund” which runs out in March of this year.
“The heart of this is that I have travelled the world and know that Canadian beef is truly an amazing product. If we want to share our product with the world, the only way is to get it out there and the best way to do that is through collaborative economics,” Lau sums up.
BIXS’s original and lasting vision has four outcomes: better breeding, marketing and overall outcomes for producers, better sharing of information for benefits throughout the supply chain, the ability to respond to food safety emergencies and reduce market disruption, and customer satisfaction throughout the supply chain.
For detailed information about BIXS, visit bixs.cattle.ca, or call 1-877-995-0687.
If the EU interests you, start early
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) estimates producers will need to raise 500,000 head per year to fill all the duty-free quota that will become available once the Canadian-European Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) takes effect.
That’s expected to be in late 2016 or early 2017 which gives Canadian beef producers two years to assess this lucrative market composed of 28 countries and begin registering cattle for their first shipments. They’ll probably need all of that lead time.
Technical talks to ratify CETA have been underway since the negotiations wrapped up this fall, but Mark Klassen, the technical director of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, says no change is anticipated in the steps cow-calf producers, feedlots and packing plants must follow to become certified and eligible to export to the EU.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) rules for certified hormone free EU beef were revised in 2011 to reduce the number of veterinary visits required and remove the need to purchase special EU program ear tags and eliminate urine testing at feedlots. Additionally, it’s now possible for cattle raised in community pastures and sold through auction markets to remain EU eligible provided certain requirements are met.
Klassen says the current technical discussions centre around the requirements for beef plants, particularly the use of hot-water carcass pasteurization as a food safety intervention. Canada’s larger processors also use other treatments for carcasses and cuts that, while supported by research and approved in Canada, are not presently accepted by the EU. There are, however, three smaller EU-approved packing plants in Canada eligible to export beef products.
The CCA is encouraging anyone interested in the EU market to begin this spring because the enrolment process will require a growth-enhancing product (GEP) assessment, training, and possibly new operating procedures.
Cow-calf producers are encouraged to enrol before calving but they can enrol any time before their EU animals leave the birth farm provided growth-promoting products are not used for other animals on the farm. Feedlots must be approved before they receive certified animals.
Klassen has compiled easy-to-read summaries of the requirements for cow-calf producers and feedlots that are now available on the CCA website.
The full text of the EU protocol is available on the CFIA website.
The whole point of the protocol is to verify that beef being offered for export to the EU is from animals raised without GEPs (supplemental hormones and beta-agonists including MGA, ractopamine or zilpaterol).
This doesn’t mean GEPs have to be banned from your entire operation, just the EU-bound animals and that there is supporting documentation on file to back up this claim throughout the chain.
The first step is to discuss program requirements and costs with a CFIA-approved veterinarian. Klassen says producers typically work with their own veterinarians who must take some training developed by the CFIA on the EU program. CFIA district offices should have a list of local vets who are already approved.
If you decide to proceed, your approved veterinarian will do an on-farm GEP assessment, issue the official certificate of compliance once everything is satisfactory, and work with you to complete the enrolment form and training. For this, you’ll need a premises identification number as well as a written program that includes an organizational structure identifying who will be responsible for program tasks.
The enrolment form and producer declaration must be renewed each year. Cow-calf producers are responsible for contacting their approved veterinarians to renew the GEP assessment on their operations at least once a year. It’s twice a year for feedlots.
Paper trail is proof
Your approved veterinarian will have the required forms and certificates. Alternatively, records generated from farm and industry animal-tracking programs already in use are acceptable as long as they include the required information.
Animal inventories must be kept up to date as animals move into and out of the program.
If an animal’s national RFID tag is lost, it must be replaced and recorded as required by Canada’s traceability regulations as well as in your EU program records. First, the animal must be inspected by the operation’s designated person for evidence of implant use and the records reviewed to ensure the animal was never fed GEPs.
Mixed-status operations need to develop a manual of procedures describing GEP use for non-program animals and have a system in place to track individual animals that shows how program animals are segregated and visually distinguished from non-eligible animals. Mixed feeds and supplements purchased from commercial feed mills fed to program animals must come with a guarantee that they do not contain any GEP residues. Likewise, if you mix your own feed, you’ll need a written plan to ensure feeds containing GEPs remain segregated, and some way to monitor this practice.
Whether program animals are sold through an enrolled auction market, shipped directly from the birth farm to another enrolled operation, or to an EU-approved packing plant, the load needs to be accompanied by a CFIA-accepted transfer document listing the RFID numbers of program animals.
What if there is a mixup?
If an animal’s identification doesn’t match up with those on the transfer document, the receiving feedlot needs to get back to the farm of origin to determine whether the animal is eligible for the program. If so, the farm must provide a supplemental transfer document.
If evidence of an implant is detected or even suspected, the approved veterinarian must be notified. All animals from the same source will be deemed ineligible for the EU until an investigation is completed.
Optimism shines on Agribition sales
Optimism in the beef industry propped up what Canadian Western Agribition officials say was their most festive show in years.
The Stock Exchange commercial cattle barn was a hub of activity with Bull Pen Alley entries up 50 per cent and display pens in The Yards filled to the brim. Organizers say interest in The Yards, introduced in 2013, has been phenomenal. They were able to make room for eight additional pens, bringing the total to 26 this year and people were lined up to get space in next year’s commercial show.
The commercial heifer sale reached highs of $3,550 per head for a pen of five bred heifers and $3,150 for a pen of 10 bred heifers. Pens of five open replacement heifers topped out at $2,500 and pens of 10 at $2,050 per head.
Total sales for the 75 open replacements sold in pens of five and 10 from the ring tallied up to $145,750 for an average of $1,943 per head compared to the 2013 average of $1,063. Bred-heifer pens rang up $411,750 in sales on 140 head for an average of $2,941 per head compared to the 2013 average of $1,707. Complete show and sale results including consignors and buyers are available at agribition.com.