Most people don’t associate farming with paperwork, but the reality is that modern farming is stuffed with it. Every movement of every animal has to be recorded and tracked. That usually means filling in a paper form. There are computer systems involved, but they’re not standardised, not always very user-centric, and don’t share data.
A team in Defra is working to change this. It’s an enormous task, and the work is still at a very early stage. But to try and put it in context, we went to Ashford in Kent to meet a few people who have opinions about what that transformation might look like, and the benefits it could bring.
This short film is the result. There's also a text transcript below, if you’d prefer to read one.
Title: Changing how we track livestock
Simon Hall, Livestock Information Programme Transformation Director: So we're in Ashford Market down in Kent today, seeing how the end-to-end traceability system works. And what we mean by traceability really is basic information about animals. We have a whole set of regulations that have evolved over time in response to individual disease events.
The drivers for traceability are changing significantly and very quickly, particularly in the context of EU exit, also in the context of an agricultural industry that is more technology hungry, to use technology to drive efficiency and effectiveness.
Traceability data is really the bedrock of anything to do with livestock.
Subtitle: The problems we are fixing
Mark Cleverdon, Hobbs Parker: Traceability came in through Europe, following scares like BSE in the late 90s, foot and mouth in the early 2000s. The biggest problems with traceability are the fact that we have got three completely different systems to work with.
If we had information automatically incorporated into a database that could be trusted, that would be an improvement.
Kate McCaul, Spend Controls, Government Digital Service: The whole industry runs on paper. There's a lot of different systems, there's checks being made against lots of different data sets.
Frank Languish, farmer: At the moment I have loads and loads of paper, and we all know that the more paper you have, the more errors you have. It's the same with the sheep, even if they have all these chips in their ears, we still have a piece of paper that goes with all the animals. If we could get rid of a lot of the paper, that would make a big difference.
Subtitle: The benefits of traceability
Chris Dobbs, Local Auctioneers Association: Transfer of election data would make it better, more accurate, take out the risk of human error. I've said from the very start that this is something that as an industry and as a government, we should have been doing years ago. It's a fantastic opportunity.
Frank Languish: To just be able to have that information from a chip read in an animal's ear, that would revolutionise what we do. Those of us that can farm efficiently and utilise the benefits of technology will have a future to trade with the rest of the world.
Simon Hall: This is one of these classic win-win situations. To be more efficient but more importantly to deliver better outcomes across a range of things that we do, and in a way that transforms the ability of an industry to change. This is transformational change at its best and I'm very privileged to be able to lead it.