Fears genetic gains may stall

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Bob GarnantCountryman

A leading animal scientists has raised concerns that genetic gains in wool production will be left in the wake of the sheep meat sector after the decision by Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) to dump the Information Nucleus Flock (INF) project.

In an open letter to woolgrowers, University of WA honorary professor David Lindsay was scathing of AWI's decision to scrap its share ($4.8 million over nine years) of the funding proposal put up by Sheep CRC.

He described it as "myopic in the extreme" and in no way in the interests of the wool industry.

Professor Lindsay, who also ran a Merino stud, went on to outline his reasons for the criticism - not the least of which is that the genetic database that the nucleus flock project provides will be the way of the future and that without such investment the wool sector will fall further behind its meat counterpart.

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"The INF with its large inventory of fully pedigreed animals each with a huge number of measurements is a unique resource that is being used for a wide range of research projects including studies into flystrike, staple strength, reproductive performance, resistance to disease and growth," he said.

"Analysis of DNA will eventually replace present methods of determining pedigrees which, in itself, will be a huge saving in costs and labour for the serious stud breeder.

"Research into all of these aspects is also under threat except where Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) gives its continuing support but of course with a meat, rather and a wool focus."

Dr Lindsay also argued the $4.8 million that AWI had already invested into the project would go to waste.

"The handful of geneticists and scientists will be lost from the industry," he said.

Dr Lindsay said woolgrowers would eventually succumb to the technology advantage of competing fibre industries.

"If we sit on our hands waiting impatiently for important ASBVs and genomic research validation, the wool industry will fall further behind it's already 10 to 20-year lag."

In response to _Countryman _questions about the focus of the nucleus flock going forward, MLA - which is now the main driver of the project - said it would not fund wool research but the Australian Wool Testing Authority (AWTA) would provide funds to continue research into limited wool traits for a year.

"MLA will not fund wool research, however AWTA has committed to the funding of three wool traits over the next year - fleece weight, fibre diameter and staple strength," said MLA manager of R&D strategy Rob Banks.

The AWTA would not say how much it was investing but said it would be based on covering the costs of the research for those traits. Countryman understands this is not at the same level of the investment made by AWI previously.

MLA has committed to fund the project until 2014. However, for the flock to be sustainable beyond that Mr Banks said a long-term model would need to be developed in consultation with industry.

"MLA is particularly interested in improving the Meat Standards Australia model from research developed from the project," he said.

AWI refused to comment.


See letter, page 17

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