Eye-opener for Argentinians

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Bob GarnantThe West Australian
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The Spanish toast 'arriba abajo' marked the wind-up dinner for a group of Argentinians after completing a study tour of Australia.

The Patagonian sheep producers sat down for a Moojepin farm dinner at the Young George restaurant last week in East Fremantle.

After a delicious meal of Moojepin Farm Merino mutton nachos, smoked shoulder and all the fixings - cooked to perfection by chef Melissa Palinkas - there was a certain air of satisfaction.

With an alliance to Australia's Multi-Purpose Merino breeding group, the Patagonians were led by Ovis 21 wool division and breeding manager Ricardo Juan Fenton and sheep classer and MPM co-founder Wally O'Connor.

Mr Fenton, who in 2003 co-founded Ovis 21, said the network consisted of 160 primary producers located at Santa Cruz, Tierra del Fuego, Chubut, Rio Negro, Neuquen, Buenos Aires and Corrientes in Argentina, as well as in Chile and Uruguay, including 22 studs with 5400 rams and over a million MPM bloodline ewes.

He said with a motto to improve the economical, ecological, social and human sustainability of the value chains based on sheep production, Ovis 21 was undertaking holistic management in sheep and wool.

"Our goal is to introduce flock improvement and advanced wool-classing protocols," Mr Fenton said.

Ovis 21 is also dedicated to the regeneration of grasslands in its role to increase farm profitability and therefore improve communities.

Under its Grassland Regeneration and Sustainable Standard there are 54 certified properties covering 1.3 million hectares.

According to a recent Ovis 21 report, Patagonia's unique and complex grasslands are among the most damaged in the world, and about 810,000ha have been abandoned.

The group's visit to WA included a tour of Jim and Pam McGregor's Kojonup cattle farm.

The couple, who run Ardcairne Angus stud, have practised holistic management on their grazing farm for 17 years.

"A lot of planning goes into our farm management in efforts to look after the land and provide productive, sustainable soil," Mr McGregor said.

"We could use another two inches of rain right now, but the grazing paddocks are holding up, most likely due to our application of holistic farming practices."

Back in Fremantle, the group was applauded by Sheep Co-operative Research Centre representative Peter Trefort.

"I commend you on being able to farm in some of the harsh environments in Patagonia; it must be a challenge to get lambs to weight in the 70 to 80 days.

"Your group has great foresight to use Australian sheep genetics to help improve productivity.

"Sheep CRC is keen to work with Ovis 21 and will be supplying Merino Select data feedback to your group."

Mr Trefort added that genomics were very important and the way of the future.

There was much talk at the dinner about improved lambing percentages as a result of breeding with Australia's MPM sheep.

The MPM Group was established in 2004 when nine like-minded Australian ram breeders started to share ideas, information and innovation.

Mr O'Connor said the group understood that change was necessary and that sheep farming was continually evolving.

"The sheep industry is in the process of change and we have to adapt to remain productive, profitable and relevant," he said.

"We clearly recognise that we are now involved in both the meat and wool industry.

"Our breeding system is aimed to gain both maximum returns from the three main profit drivers in sheep breeding - wool, meat and fertility."

Mr O'Connor added that the potential for genetic gain in wool, meat and fertility of Merino was enormous.

At an earlier visit to David and Susan Thompson's Moojepin MPM stud at Katanning, the group had an informative discussion with Department of Agriculture and Food WA research officer Beth Paganoni on MPM sheep.

"All the sons and daughters of MPM sires are measured, which helps to rank all the sires across the country," she said.

"For example, when the progeny from a particular sire are always 5kg heavier than progeny from other sires at weaning, such a sire would have a breeding value for weaning weight of +6.4kg.

"Any sheep that has lots of information will be able to progress the breeder's chosen genetic direction."

Ms Paganoni displayed several graphs that highlighted Moojepin's genetic progress, particularly for increased growth, muscle and fat, compared to the national average of all flocks on the MerinoSelect database.

Moojepin co-principal David Thompson said the Patagonians were able to taste the progress of his concentration on improving eating quality values at the Young George restaurant gathering.

"You have much to talk about when you return home," Mr Thompson told them.

The progress of MPM breeding genetics in Patagonia is well under way, according to some of the breeders who spoke to _Countryman _.

Numancia stud principal Marcelo Perez said he has been using Australian MPM genetics since 2004 on his farm with 7000 Merino ewes.

Las Quebranas stud principal Matias Soriano runs 14,000 ewes and has been using MPM for 10 years.

Both breeders said their lambing rates had increased as much as 110 per cent and were 25 per cent higher than traditional Merino flocks in Patagonia.

"We also turn lambs off quicker," Mr Soriano said.

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