When BVD testing became compulsory in NI back in 2016, most farmers wanted the disease eradicated quickly so that tissue tagging could become a thing of the past too.

After all, a tissue tag is at least twice the price of an ordinary plastic tag, plus there is the extra cost and hassle of posting samples.

However, the end of tissue tagging now seems unlikely for two reasons. Firstly, NI remains a long way off BVD eradication, with progress going the wrong way over the past 18 months.

At the end of April 2022, 0.34% of tests during the previous 12 months were positive, up from the all-time low of 0.29% seen in February 2021.

It is a very different picture in the Republic of Ireland, where the country is expected to obtain BVD free status next year. The Irish government introduced measures early on which were effective at helping stamp out the disease.

Continue placing movement restrictions on herds that retain BVD positive calves and issuing warning letters to farmers when there is a BVD outbreak locally. DAERA are reportedly planning similar measures for NI, but so far the process has been painfully slow.

New payments

The second reason for the continuation of tissue tagging surrounds future farm payments. DAERA has said it is considering how DNA tagging could be used for headage payments to prove that each eligible suckler cow has a living calf.

The department has also said DNA tagging could have a role in a proposed livestock genetics programme which would be linked to new farm support payments.

A long time coming

Just like new BVD measures, a programme to drive genetic improvement in NI cattle has been a long time coming. It was suggested by the now defunct Agri Food and Strategy Board in its Going for Growth report back in April 2013.

Ironically, this was just a few months after tissue tagging began in NI through the voluntary phase of the BVD programme. Let’s hope progress with all these projects and policies moves much faster in the years ahead.