A service established by the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) over the past four years to carry information back and forth along the entire beef production chain is about to shed its training wheels.
The Beef Information Xchange System — commonly known as BIXS — is about to begin a new era following the December announcement of a new company that will steer BIXS from the training track to the launch pad.
The as-yet unnamed private company is actually created through a partnership between the CCA and ViewTrak, a successful Alberta-based livestock technology company. It’s the first arrangement of it’s kind for the CCA.
BIXS over the past four years has developed the system and technology for being able to track cattle through all stages of the Canadian pasture-to-packer beef production system. But the service essentially only stood at the threshold of being able to engage the entire industry. And the CCA didn’t really have the resources, tools or mandate to take it much further.
The new company, with the working title of BIXSCO, is expected to carry BIXS to the next level of operation say principles for both CCA and ViewTrak. Their proposal is saying “we have the technology, here are the benefits of exchanging animal production and beef quality information back and forth through the supply and retail chain, let’s all start using it to better carry Canadian beef to the domestic and international marketplace.”
ViewTrak’s Hubert Lau, who will serve as the president and CEO of the new company, described the objective of this new initiative. Rather than each sector of the industry — beef producers, cattle feeders, meat packers, auction marts, retailers, foodservice companies — working independently and sometimes at cross purposes, the objective of BIXSCO is to help “circle the wagons,” says Lau. “It is to connect the Canadian beef industry so there is a back and forth flow of beef production and quality information between all players.”
Working for a common goal
He describes the system as “collaborative economics.” It doesn’t spoil anyone’s independence or competitive advantage, but it does get the entire industry singing from the same song sheet. “It is much like what we saw with industry in Japan,” says Lau. “After the Second World War Japan emerged as a country with industries that produced some of the most reliable cars and electronics in the world — Japanese products had a good reputation.
“The fact is that the various Japanese automakers are fiercely competitive. But they recognized the advantage to the whole industry of working together to promote ‘Japanese quality’ to the whole world. The executives of these companies meet to discuss strategy for marketing Japanese products. It doesn’t take anything away from the individual automakers, but it does benefit the industry as a whole.
“Our plan, through this new company is to engage the whole Canadian beef supply chain on the value of collaborative economics,” says Lau.
CCA general manager Rob McNabb says the new company — the first company developed through a CCA partnership — comes at the ideal time.
“When we first began developing the concept of BIXS about four years ago, the plan from the outset was to get a system or service up and running and then be able to hand it over to some other agency or company to operate,” says McNabb. “The plan all along was for BIXS to become a self-supporting and sustainable program available to the Canadian beef industry.”
The initial funding to develop BIXS was covered by the federal Agricultural Flexibility Fund, and more recently by funds from The Canadian Beef and Cattle Market Development Fund or the “Legacy Fund.” While many details on BIXS operation are yet to be finalized, any further funding of BIXS will be backed by ViewTrak.
The information exchange
So what does BIXS do? As the name suggests it is a beef information exchange system. It is all voluntary, but the concept is for each cow-calf producer in Canada to go to the BIXS website to register their marketable cattle on the BIXS software program, using the individual CCIA ear tag numbers. And the producer is asked to provide a basic amount of information — date of birth, sex, and breed of each animal — and then there is wide range of optional information concerning production practices.
Once those market cattle are registered they can then be traced through the whole production system — to feedlots registered on BIXS through to the packers. It is a two-way information exchange. BIXS can send information back through the network to producers providing reports on how cattle fed at the feedlot as well as reports on carcass grade and yield at the packing plant. Since it was launched, BIXS has recorded 3.4 million animal birthdates into its system, and collected three million detailed carcass records. It is the largest database of it’s kind in the world.
On the other end of the system, feeders, packing plants, retailers and food service companies can come to BIXS looking for cattle produced with specific production specifications and they can send information back through the supply chain to find producers with cattle meeting these requirements or may be interested in producing them. Again BIXS is all voluntary and BIXS is all confidential — no one is able to identify individual producers or other players in the supply chain unless that person or company agrees to be contacted.
This “search” through the Canadian beef industry for cattle produced with certain specifications is becoming more important and relevant as food retailers and food service companies tailor their marketing efforts around meat products that are natural, organic, hormone free, sustainable, produced humanely, and so on.
‘Circles the wagons’
That’s where the new BIXSCO will fit in as it unites or “circles the wagons” to complete the information flow through the industry.
Larry Thomas, has been national co-ordinator of the Beef InfoXchange System since day one. It has been his job to work with software developers and all sectors of the industry to have a simple, user-friendly system that was easy for people to access to input and retrieve information from.
Thomas has worked extensively to promote the concept of BIXS across the beef industry. The first version of BIXS was released a couple of years ago. After reviewing and further testing the software program was completely overhauled about a year ago. The new BISX 2 version has just been launched.
As this partnership announcement is made, Lau says the new company plans to hit the ground running. A formal name will be finalized, and there will be extensive consultation with the beef industry to determine needs and concerns. “It is important that we not only talk about the potential benefits of BIXS through the beef supply chain,” says Lau. “But we also have to begin demonstrating the benefits so people can see real life examples of how it works.”