Nebraska Brand Committee to go high-tech
May 17, 2017
ALLIANCE, Neb. — Nebraska is cattle country with producers putting with pride on their cattle a brand to tell them from others. Without a tag the only one that can tell one calf of the same color from another is its mother.
In 1888, the Nebraska Stockgrowers organization formed, with one of its purposes to help fellow members guard against rustling of their livestock — with justice several times coming at the end of a rope. It wasn't until 1941 when the Nebraska Brand Committee was formed by the Unicameral. Its purpose to this day remains to inspect cattle and to investigate missing or stolen cattle. It is a self-supporting cash fund agency, meaning user fees is what funds the committee, not taxpayer dollars. Its fees are collected from brand recordings, brand inspections and registered feedlots and dairies.
There are 86 Nebraska statutes that cover the sale, purchase, transportation, branding and brand inspection of livestock. Sixty-eight of these statutes pertain to all areas of the state of Nebraska. The other 18 are for the brand area only. To view complete state statutes, go to Nebraska Legislature.
Rural Nebraska senators have tried for years to change the brand inspection area to include the whole state, but thus far the best they have done is when LB 768 passed in 2014 which created a brand inspection service area in the non-brand inspection area of Nebraska that was contiguous with the designated brand inspection area. The area includes eastern Knox, Antelope, Pierce, Boone, Nance, Merrick, Hall, Adams, Webster and Furnas. Livestock must be brand inspected prior to shipment to sale barn, feedlot or individual in 59 of the 93 counties in the state.
As said before the NBC raises funds for paying its five-office staff and 100 inspectors, which amounts to approximately $330,000 per month by fees alone. On Feb. 1, 2016, the brand inspection fee was increased to $1 per head. In 2012, a $10 surcharge on local inspections with LB 181 allowing travel expenses not to exceed $20 was passed.
The NBC office is in Alliance. As it has been since 1941, fees collected by the 100 inspectors in the form of checks, cash and change come to the office in brown manila envelopes, where they are manually handled, invoiced and recorded. The office owns three computers, none of which network with each other. To put info from one to another takes downloading to a flash drive.
An audit in 2016 raised several concerns about issues too lengthy to get into here but one of its recommendations for efficiency was for the NBC to become digitalized. The NBC formed new committees within its board upon recommendations from the audit. The two committees formed include one on policy/statutes and a technology working group, headed by NBC board member, John Widdowson from Kearney. That committee researched and sent out requests for bids to assist with their technological advancement. Nebraska Interactive LLC (NI) will be working with the NBC for this purpose.
NI has been assisting state agencies in 30 states to become e-filers and collectors for 20 years. Because of them, voter registration is online and the Department of Motor Vehicles registrations and payments can be done online, just two of the Nebraska state agencies handled by NI.
NBC has contracted with Nebraska Interactive to make all forms computerized and online payments allowable. Inspectors will be given iPads or an app on their smartphones where they can access the forms at any site they go to for inspection. "Payment will still be by cash, as it is U.S. tender and must be allowed, but payment by credit or debit cards, by check or a submitting a picture of that check will be encouraged," explained Melody Benjamin, Nebraska Cattlemen vice-president of member services.
"All producers will be given a number, much like a SSN, no one else will have that number. After July 1, this will be utilized by inspectors, thus decreasing the potential of mix-up of funds or lost payments, which has occurred occasionally with the mailings. Producers in July can go online and register and receive their number prior to any inspection they require."
"This will help too with no longer requiring a paper trail for brands. Any cattle bought or sold by that producer will have that information in their file, and the salebarn staff can access it."
Brand inspections do not always occur where Wi-Fi is available, Benjamin also explained that the info will be downloaded and when the inspector is able, then can transmit it to the office.
There are rumblings from several inspectors that do not want the change. The NBC is handling that by employing a training consultant who will train the office staff and the inspectors."
NI is still working with the feedlots to do electronic shipment information but that will not be available until the end of the year."
"The cost of this work will be assessed $.06 per head, which will come out of the $1 inspection fee until the whole contract cost is met. Another plus to this system, as it is now, brand inspectors collect two fees, one for the inspection and one for the beef-check-off. With this new system, one payment will be taken by the inspector and the check-off dollars will be subtracted and submitted electronically," Widdowson said when he addressed NC members during their annual convention last December.
"California, Oregon and New Mexico already have a semblance of e-filing for their brand inspections, but Nebraska's will be more in-depth. Other states are waiting to see how we do before they commit to e-filing of brands."
The electronic age is everywhere, enhancing our daily lives most of the time, aggravating it at other times. For the staff at the NBC it has been aggravating most of the time handling producer's fees like they have always done since 1941. It is time that the Nebraska Brand Committee joins the technological age. And it is time for we producers to applaud their efforts in becoming more efficient in the handling of our hard-earned dollars for the betterment of our industry.