Based on the results of an exclusive BEEF magazine-Kansas State University (KSU) mail survey conducted last spring, the glass of producer support for the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is either half empty, or half full, depending on your perspective. In fact, 49.4% of respondents indicated their support of NAIS (somewhat supportive, supportive or strongly supportive), while 47.6% indicated opposition (somewhat opposed, opposed or strongly opposed).

Data for the 2006 Cow-Calf Producer NAIS Survey, a joint project between KSU and BEEF magazine, was collected March 21 through June 20, 2006. A total of 1,000 BEEF magazine readers nationwide, all cow-calf producers, were surveyed by mail to measure attitudes toward the proposed NAIS program. A total of 522 surveys were returned.

Producers from 41 states responded to the survey, with an average herd size of 160 head. Of respondents, almost 80% were over the age of 45.

Though the survey results show about a 50/50 support level for the NAIS concept, which at this point is being promoted by USDA as a voluntary program, BEEF research manager Scott Grau says the comments submitted with returned surveys indicate lingering confusion about NAIS.

“While the individual animal ID that is the centerpiece of a national animal ID and traceback program can be used as a management tool by individual producers if individual producers choose to go the extra steps, ID's only role within NAIS is for traceback in the event of an animal-health emergency. However, comments by respondents indicate many seem to believe NAIS compliance automatically brings with it carcass data and/or individual access to value-added markets,” Grau says.

In addition, respondents indicate continued nervousness about program costs, privacy concerns and liability under NAIS.

“The research shows those in favor of NAIS tend to use more sources of information and are more well-read on the topic. In general, the indication is that the more you feel you know about the system, the less fearful you are of the system. Of course, the big question is: ‘How does the industry get everyone on the same page?’” Grau says.

The information gathered in the study focused on four key areas, says KSU graduate student Sharon Glaenzer Breiner, who headed up the project. They included:

  • Sources and channels of information
  • Technology usage
  • Radio-frequency identification device
  • NAIS

Perhaps providing a blueprint for educating producers about NAIS, respondents cited veterinarians as their number-one source of information in their beef operation. “Other cattle producers” were the second-most cited source of information, followed by farm and feed dealers, Extension agents, beef industry organizations and university specialists. Private consultants were the least selected source of information.

Meanwhile, the most popular channels of information were cattle magazines, followed by other cattle producers. Newspapers, university Extension bulletins and county Extension newsletters followed, while field days, Internet, radio and television were the least cited.

Overall, more than half (54.8%) of respondents said they use a personal computer (PC) in their cattle operation. Of those using a PC, 59.1% use it once a day or more. The majority, 80.8% use a PC several times a week or more.

  • 84.5% of respondents report using visual ear tags as the ID system in their herds. Brands were cited by 56.1% of respondents, with tattoos at 22.4% and electronic ID by 7.7%.

  • Almost 92% of respondents reported they did not buy electronic ID tags in 2005, and 78.5% said they didn't plan such purchases in 2006. A total of 16.5% indicated they intended to or did purchase such EID tags in 2006, up from 7.3% in 2005.

  • 93.3% of respondents don't use electronic ID and monitoring of their cattle, while 65.3% hadn't registered their livestock premises. Only 32.8% said they had registered their premises.

  • Overall, respondents cited “monitoring disease” as the most important need for NAIS, followed closely by “regaining foreign markets” and “increasing consumer confidence.” Fourth was “enhancing food safety,” followed by “managing the supply chain.” Last was “increased profitability.”

  • Almost 56% of respondents indicated their operation was somewhat to completely capable of adopting NAIS, while almost 41% said they were somewhat to completely incapable.

  • Of respondents indicating their support of NAIS, 67.1% reported using a PC in their operation. Of those indicating a neutral viewpoint on NAIS, 56.8% reported using a PC in their operation. The figure for those against NAIS was 43.9%.

    Understandably, more of those in favor of NAIS reported having registered their premises — 48.7%, vs. 27.7% for those neutral to NAIS, and 24.5% for those against NAIS.

  • Of respondents indicating an understanding of NAIS, 66.4% indicated they use a PC in their operation, compared to 32.4% of those who said they are “unfamiliar” with NAIS.

    Similarly, a higher percentage of those saying they understood NAIS had registered their premises — 42.8%. Of those citing unfamiliarity with NAIS, only 19% had registered their livestock premises.

  • In addition, those respondents indicating familiarity with NAIS considered themselves significantly more capable of adopting NAIS than those who considered themselves unfamiliar with NAIS — 4.55 vs. 2.77, respectively, on a scale of 1 to 6, with 1 being “incapable” and 6 being “completely capable.”

“The data show an interest in producers to understand and adapt to the proposed NAIS,” KSU's Breiner says. “Producers also report being knowledgeable about the system and are positive about their ability to adapt. It's important to remember, however, that these same producers have strong concerns about the importance of this system and show great variability in their answers as viewed in the standard deviation of many responses.”