Sunday, January 11, 2004

Kentucky advances in cattle tracking

'Mad cow' scare spurs electronic tag project

The Associated Press

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Kentucky is on schedule to have an electronic tracking system for livestock in place next month, a University of Kentucky beef specialist said.

Four stockyards in the state already use the system, which tracks cattle from birth to slaughter. The U.S. Department of Agriculture ordered states to implement tracking following the discovery of the country's first case of mad cow disease.

"We're probably the most advanced state in the country in terms of being close to being able to implement what the USDA wants," said Jim Akers, who attended the Kentucky Cattlemen's Association convention Friday.

Kentucky is the nation's eighth-largest beef-cattle state and the biggest east of the Mississippi River.

Agriculture officials from several states were in Bowling Green to study the measures Kentucky has already implemented, said Dave Maples, executive vice president of the cattlemen's group.

Money from the national tobacco settlement has helped put Kentucky ahead of the curve on tracking.

Having the settlement money "positions us very well to be able to lead in that effort and be able to have that system in place probably before any other state," said Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer.

About one-fifth of the settlement money allocated by the state Agricultural Development Board has gone to cattle projects, according to the Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy. The Kentucky Beef Network has received $4 million since 2001, with $2 million set aside to buy scanning equipment and to upgrade auction yards' existing software to fold into a central database.

Tim and Lori Hughes, who raise cattle and hay on 800 acres in Simpson County, are among those producers who have tagged some of their cattle with the electronic devices.

"As we perfect the whole program, it's going to be a great asset for producers and consumers," Tim Hughes said.

In his first major address since taking office Monday, Farmer pledged his support for the cattle-tracking system and vowed to maintain funding levels for the state's two livestock laboratories.

The labs, in Hopkinsville and Lexington, each receive $400,000 annually, according to the department. Farmer said the labs can diagnose illnesses within 24 to 48 hours at no cost to farmers.

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