It is nearly 18 months since it became possible for farmers to keep their herd register online following some changes in EU legislation. This was undoubtedly a welcome option for producers to avail by helping to cut back on the time consuming burden of keeping paper records.
While many farmers have become fairly comfortable with the process of notifying births, deaths and movements on Aphis online, taking the next step to maintain the herd register online is something we would encourage farmers to take their time with.
There are benefits in making this change but there are a number of important considerations to take into account when making the move away from the paper herd book.
At the outset it is important to acknowledge that going online is entirely voluntary and that we cannot condemn our old herd books to the bin. Ten years of records are still required to keep you right at an inspection whether they are paper or online.
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 new users of the online herd register are encouraged to consider recording births, deaths and movements in both the paper herd book and online herd register until such times as a herd keeper feels comfortable recording everything online. For those confident with the online service, the old herd books can be safely stored away and you can look forward to a lot less paper on your desk!
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 DAERA online services (028 9442 6699).
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 DAERA if an individual is experiencing technical difficulties.
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 DAERA about the shorter notice period, however it was clarified that the European Commission specified 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 is very straightforward.
It would be worth keeping a copy of the DAERA guidance booklet convenient (https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/dard/online-herd-register-guidance.pdf) to keep you right, while CAFRE runs a series of training evenings at different times of the year to help farmers get up to speed on using APHIS online. These are certainly worth considering.
Overall the availability of the APHIS online herd register is a benefit to the industry both in terms of reducing administration and costs. It is not perfect, but it is expected that DAERA 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 DAERA Online Services Helpdesk (028 9442 6699).