Database weapon for farmers

28 September 2001

Database weapon for farmers

By John Burns

South-west correspondent

EVERY day livestock producers create potentially valuable information, but without any system of collating these in a central database it is being wasted.

However, if this information was collated on a confidential database for contributing producers it would empower them in their business dealings, says Exmoor producer and the entrepreneur behind Shearwell Data, Richard Webber.

"Most producers feel at a disadvantage against the big companies that buy from us. That is why I believe producers desperately need a database which belongs to them."

That concept of a central mutual database has been his goal for the last 10 years. He recognised that information would be expensive to collect and analyse unless reliable automatic identification of individual animals was available, along with computer programs to process the information.

Provided those were available, there would be many benefits. This would include faster breed improvement, because the best animals could be identified quickly and accurately, providing all the nations results were available.

The most effective or best value vet treatments could also be identified, as well as prices being received from abattoirs for livestock. Input costs would be known and the sources of best value identified for everything from fertiliser to haulage.

With the help of other producers, Mr Webber and his staff have tested every known system of animal identification in practical farm conditions. They have also developed basic computer programs for farm record keeping as well as for his National Livestock Management Database.

After a brief involvement with another company, Shearwell Data is continuing to develop the complete database system alone.

Mr Webber believes the cost of running a national producers database could be covered by selling information useful to governments or industry. This could be done without revealing any individuals data or anything which would disadvantage producers if it fell into the wrong hands, he adds.

At some stage producers making use of information in the database could also be asked to pay an annual fee of about £60.

He accepts that convincing enough producers to contribute confidential information will be key to its success. Some may also be suspicious of his involvement with sales of electronic identification equipment and software.

"I will have to convince them that my commercial businesses and the confidential national database will be kept separate", he says.

"Possibly, a system of regional producer representatives on a central board could serve as the guardian of confidential information and decide when it was appropriate to start charging users an annual fee." &#42


Datal Valuable if collated.

&#8226 Costs could be low.

&#8226 Would be confidenti

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