Plan needed for sheep flock

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Bob GarnantThe West Australian
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Sheep industry leaders compared notes last week in a collaborative effort to address some of the key issues facing progress towards growth of the WA flock.

Organised by WAFarmers, there was a good cross-section of industry participants who all shared in open discussion at the Great Southern Agricultural Research Institute in Katanning.

Designed to be an informal debate on several key points, the meeting began with Professor David Lindsay, as co-chairman, urging feedback towards an action plan.

"The industry currently lacks the required growth for sustainability, and co-operation is required to implement a plan to grow the WA sheep and wool flock," he said.

Professor Lindsay said improved farm profitability would restore confidence and encourage new entrants so desperately needed for long-term sustainability.

Co-chairman of the meeting and Sheep Industry Leadership Council president Rob Egerton-Warburton rolled out the ground works for SILC's strategic plan with the core growth element being that Merinos be treated as one animal, not divided into either a wool or meat type, but dual-purpose.

"We need to change the culture of how we breed sheep and use genetics as a tool to increase productivity," he said.

Mr Egerton-Warburton said the 10-year plan was to grow the WA sheep industry from $1 billion to $2 billion in value, divided into domestic and international markets.

"The industry needs transformative growth in both wool and meat sectors," he said.

"This curve-bending upward growth will come from increased productivity through higher lambing percentage. Short-term growth will require sheep farms to average 90 per cent lambing within the next three years.

"This will be made possible by having 70 per cent of all sheep farms accredited under Lifetime Ewe Management."

Mr Egerton-Warburton said SILC's action plan included training new entrants to develop the skills and be employable to run sheep enterprises.

Many at the meeting had concerns with the ongoing Department of Agriculture and Food WA funding cuts and staff redundancies.

DAFWA's Katanning branch manager Keith Ohlsen said the department would continue to support existing extension courses that got results.

These extensions are delivered through the Sheep Innovation Business Innovation Project and include Lifetime Ewe Management, RamSelcet, Bred Well, Fed Well, Lamb Survival Initiative and 100%+ Club.

"DAFWA's focus is on genetic, feeding and reproductive rate improvements," Mr Ohlsen said.

Department of Agriculture and Food geneticist Johan Greeff said it was difficult to identify breeding animals that could increase productivity.

"However, from data collected, investing in genomics is soundly based," he said.

Sheepmeat Council of Australia president Jeff Murray said it was important to maintain diverse sheep markets and work was ongoing with Free Trade Agreements with potential big opportunities from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

Wild dogs were of concern at the meeting and DAFWA director of invasive species Viv Read, who is on the steering committee for the National Wild Dog Plan, said WA funding would need to be co-ordinated when the plan is in place.

"WA needs an extension of the State Barrier Fence at a cost of $12 million, which will be partly funded by cabinet and the balance by industry," he said.

Mr Egerton-Warburton said wool price volatility was driven by supply and the auction system was a good indicator of price recognition and offered an easy cash-in return to the growers.

Professor Lindsay said the problem with the sheep industry, wool in particular, was the number of independent sectors each looking after their own interests.

"If the industry is to pull out of its decline, more collaboration is required in order to lobby, educate and support the key sectors to make the necessary changes," he said.

"Also, key to transformational change is researching new techniques and ideas … we need a completely new structure for research in the industry as the current attempt is not delivering, but instead blundering around achieving very little."

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