A bipartisan group of senators shared enthusiasm Friday for continuing state investment in a $1.5 million pilot program to develop a sophisticated system for tracking animal disease in beef cattle from birth until slaughter.
Gov. Laura Kelly didn't recommend funding in her proposed state budget for the second year of the project linking the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University and an assortment of beef industry companies. The initial $250,000 from the state was approved during the administration of former Gov. Jeff Colyer, while the additional $250,000 hangs in the balance.
"I certainly support the additional $250,000," said Sen. Dan Kerschen, a Garden Plain Republican and chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, said state funding could put Kansas in a position to lessen economic damage in a disease outbreak.
"It could potentially save us far more money than the small amount that the state puts into this," Hawk said.
The project places Kansas at the forefront of an effort to create infrastructure for tagging animals so each could be traced in a database from a cow-calf herd, to a feedlot and into a processing plant. The goal is to better respond to disease outbreaks by drawing upon precise information about which cattle might have been infected, said Matt Teagarden, chief executive officer of the Kansas Livestock Association.
He said the USDA pledged to match Kansas' contribution to the program up to $500,000. A coalition of ranchers, feedlots, auction markets, packers and associations is prepared to provide the other $500,000 for the two-year study, he said.
"There is no doubt the beef industry is of significant importance to the Kansas economy," Teagarden said. "That also means much is at risk. A disease outbreak could be devastating to Kansas beef producers."
He said the project led to creation of CattleTrace responsible for guiding development of a system capable of operating at the speed of commerce and for evaluating value of the tracking system to the beef supply chain. The board also focuses on data security of livestock producers.
Brandon Depenbusch, chairman of the CattleTrace board of directors, said the project relied on ultra-high-frequency tags and reader systems to document movement of calves from ranch of origin to retirement of the tags at beef processing plants. Readers have been installed at participating auction markets and feed yards, and the units are expected to be operational soon at processors.
"Just as the reader systems on the turnpike can read the K-Tag in your windshield as you maintain your speed, the readers we are using for CattleTrace are able to capture sightings as calves move naturally through pens and alleyways," he said.
He said implications of a successful tracking system on animal and public health could be profound because Kansas had the third-largest number of cattle — 6.3 million — on ranches and feed yards on Jan. 1. In 2017, Kansas produced 5.6 billion pounds of red meat, or 11 percent of the nation's total.