Back in 2009 the NI Agri-Food Better Regulation Review identified that keeping records for cattle was costing the industry in the region of £2m per annum.
No doubt that cost has increased by now, however one of the key recommendations the review made was that DARD should seek a derogation to allow farmers to keep an online herd register.
This was something the UFU strongly supported at the time in our bid to see the red tape burden reduced for farmers.
Unfortunately the implementation of this recommendation has taken longer than expected, largely because of delays in Europe. However last year saw amendments made to European regulations on cattle traceability to facilitate the introduction of cattle EID. While it may be some time yet before Member States can consider the introduction of cattle EID, the amendments also include a derogation allowing Member States to facilitate the use of a national database to maintain a herd register rather than having to keep a separate herd book on the farm.
In Northern Ireland’s case this meant DARD could allow farmers to use APHIS online as the herd register from the beginning of January 2016.
The introduction of the online herd register should be broadly welcomed. Over 60% of births are already registered online, so many farmers are relatively comfortable with the service. However the decision to transfer your herd book online is something that we would encourage farmers to take their time with as there are a number of important considerations.
At the outset it is important to acknowledge that going online is entirely voluntary and that we must not condemn our old herd books to the bin. Ten years of records are still required. If you decide to go online but later change your mind there is the option to revert back to paper, however it is likely to present a considerable administrative burden.
In this sense DARD has encouraged new users of the online herd book to consider recording births, deaths and movements in both the paper herd book and online herd book until such times as the herd keeper feels comfortable recording everything online.
For those confident with the online service, the old herd books can be safely stored away as soon as you wish.
Ultimately there are four main conditions with using the APHIS online herd register:
1. Access to APHIS online is obviously a requirement. For new users interested in registering they should contact DARD online services (www.dardni.gov.uk/how-access-dard-online-services).
2. Accuracy – As with the paper herd book, farmers take responsibility for the accuracy of herd information recorded on APHIS.
3. Electronically – farmers have to record all births, deaths and movements using online. Paper notification documents will only be accepted by DARD if an individual is experiencing technical difficulties and contact should be made with the DVO in advance.
4. Timing – births must be recorded within 23 days, while movements on or off the farm must be notified within three days. The UFU has raised concerns with DARD about the shorter notice period, however it has been clarified that the European Commission specifies that online notifications are made in real time, whereas with paper extra time is granted to allow for postage.
Farmers need to be particularly careful with this where they are trading farm to farm and where one individual is using paper and the other is online, given the different notification periods (seven days vs three). For electronic movements to the mart or abattoir the process should be much more straightforward.
It would be worth keeping a copy of the DARD guidance booklet convenient (https://www.dardni.gov.uk/publications/online-herd-register-guidance-cattle) to keep yourself right, while CAFRE has also begun a series of training evenings to help farmers get up to speed on using APHIS online, which is worth considering.
Overall the launch of the APHIS online herd register will be a considerable benefit to the industry over time both in terms of reducing administration and costs. It is not perfect, but it is expected that DARD will identify where improvements are needed in time for the launch of NIFAIS which is due to replace APHIS in the not too distant future.
Farmers also need to be aware that just like paper there are still cross compliance risks associated with the online herd register, so take your time when considering the switchover and should you need any advice contact the UFU or the DARD Online Services Helpdesk (028 9442 6699).