INTRODUCING AN electronic identification system in Wales could cost £47m – half the amount Welsh producers receive in sheep support payments.

Trials of existing electronic identification systems, funded by Farming Connect, also suggest annual running costs would be £7m, or 8% of current support.

Prys Morgan, industry development manager at Hybu Cig Cymru (Meat Promotion Wales), said his report showed the cost of introducing EID is totally prohibitive.

In his view the project’s results to date indicate that ID legislation proposed for 2008 cannot be implemented in a cost-effective way.

“At present the systems we are looking at are insufficiently robust for day-in, day-out wear and tear. They are also too complex and require too much training,” he said.

“We are no closer than before to finding suitable, universal low-cost EID systems that meet potential EU legislation and are functional for producers.”

The trial was initiated to assess the viability and benefits of existing electronic ID options.

Four companies supplied the equipment which is still being tested on 35 Welsh livestock units.

But it has been discovered that no arrangement provides the simple, efficient, workable and cost-effective solution being sought.

Mr Morgan’s report cites four key reasons why almost all the participants abandoned all or part of the systems installed.

“Setting up equipment was time-consuming and complicated, the kit was not sufficiently robust, insufficient training was given, and benefits were outweighed by costs.”

More than 75% of producers involved are still experiencing some equipment failures or breakdowns, including reader and software problems, difficulties manipulating data and crate and crush faults.

While there is potential for substantially improving livestock ID, producers claim that the technology and equipment are not able to deliver that improvement.

Arwyn Owen, director of policy at the Farmers Union of Wales, said the evaluation had proved his members‘ worst fears are correct.

“Introducing EID is totally out of the question at present,” he insisted.

But Mary James, NFU Cymru deputy director, warned that the worrying results did not alter the fact that compulsory EID was still on the negotiating table in Brussels.

“There is no way sheep producers could deliver mandatory EID in the near future and stay in business.

“We have already used interim findings from this study during negotiations, and these latest figures show that our reservations are more than justified.”