AWI stands firm on INF decision

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Wool industry pleas to Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) fell on deaf ears at a meeting in Perth last week.

Instead, AWI chief executive Stuart McCullough delivered a blow to 16 WAFarmers wool council members.

Mr McCullough said the AWI board decision made in December not to fund the Information Nucleus Flock (INF) project would not be reversed.

Council member and Kojonup sheep producer Ian Robertson argued that the INF flock, which comprises 5000 ewes in New South Wales and WA, was essential for research because of the numbers of rams measured, said to be 100.

"The INF is a large-scale reference flock that is fully pedigreed and carries out slaughter results for both meat and disease status," Mr Robertson said.

Mr McCullough gave the council some hope when he said he would discuss the importance of the INF data size with AWI head of research and development Jane Littlejohn.

University of WA professor David Lindsay, who recently wrote an open letter of concern stating 12 reasons why the INF flock should be funded, used a comparison between the dairy industry's genetic progress and that of Merino sheep.

He said that while dairy cow milk production had increased by 350 per cent, mainly because of the uptake of genetic and, more recently, genomic research, wool production had only lifted on a national average by 8 per cent since 1940. "Sheep farmers are concerned with the lack of progress," Dr Lindsay said.

But when he asked Mr McCullough if AWI was concerned, the reply was disappointing.

"We are not leaving the genetic and genomic space," Mr McCullough said. "AWI funds six of the 12 existing research flocks."

But in delivering the AWI board's recommendation of a 60:40 marketing/research split - the research split into 25:15 on-farm/off-farm divide - Mr McCullough said the marketing share would rise from $32.7 million to $54 million in 2013-14.

AWI board director David Webster, who attended the meeting, said the eurozone economic situation was likely to impact on Australia's wool industry.

"AWI has plans to counter this effect by marketing to Asia's wealthy consumers," Mr Webster said.

WAFarmers wool council president Ed Rogister said the AWI board decision to go hard with marketing and changing its present 50:50 split to 60:40 would require further consultation as the AWI Strategic Plan unfolded.

"I am not fully confident that marketing investment delivers the best returns to the wool producer," Mr Rogister said.

Even with AWI's lift in on-farm research spending from $19.7 million to $22.5 million, using draw-down funds from reserves of $105 million, Mr Rogister questioned if AWI's key performance indicators were quantifiable measurements.

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