Research will suffer: grower

Headshot of Bob Garnant
Bob GarnantCountryman

Woolgrowers should be prepared to miss out on valuable research because of funding cuts to a leading genomic program.

This was the warning of WA sheep breeder Brett Jones, of Dowerin, who said the continuance of the program would benefit growers in the long term.

In October 2011, Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) chief executive Stuart McCulloch said his organisation would no longer continue to fund the Sheep Co-operative Research Centre's (Sheep CRC) information nucleus flock (INF) program because it lacked "commercialisation".

The program, which began in 2005 at AWI's Falkiner Research Station at Conargo, New South Wales, was upgraded in 2008 when it became part of the Sheep CRC seven-year program.

While Sheep CRC is due to wind up in 2014, it recommends a commitment to the ongoing funding and research of the information nucleus flock which comprises 5000 Merino and crossbred ewes.

Current annual funding was estimated to be $1.5 million which would have come from AWI, Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and the Australian Meat Processors Council (AMPC).

The program has mated the ewes to some of the nation's best rams and the progeny are measured for growth, carcase, wool, fertility, temperament and animal-health traits.

While MLA and AMPC have committed to future funding, AWI is not convinced its annual required funding of $750,000 has the appropriate accountability.

AWI's 2010-11 annual report showed total off-farm expenditure, which included the INF program funding, to be $5.5 million.

AWI chairman Wal Merriman said other off-farm projects, like the Lifetime Ewe Management, would continue to be funded to support research and development.

But CRC chief executive James Rowe said at risk was the continued research into fertility and worm resistance which were important areas that would benefit from progeny testing of the INF program. Those two elements plus fly-strike prevention and eating quality of Merino meat were why Mr Jones feels the program is worth investing in.

The WA Merino producer and seedstock supplier said he did not agree with AWI's decision to discontinue funding.

Mr Jones, who has a 60/40 crop/sheep program, relies on research for improved productivity.

"Like many WA producers, we are always looking for improved crop varieties as well as better performance from our sheep," he said.

The Jones family have used Estimated Breeding Values and Australian Sheep Breeding Values for many years to offer improved selections to their commercial ram clients.

"Merinos have some of the highest accuracies when it comes to genomic research," Mr Jones said.

He believes AWI has made some good funding cuts since the 2008 board elections but has gone too far with total lack of regard to the INF program.

"I am considering my WoolPoll vote accordingly," Mr Jones said.

Other WA stud Merino breeders will have their say on the issue when the Stud Merino Breeders Association of WA meets on June 29.

Mr Merriman told _Countryman _ he was aware the 1000-member Australian Association of Stud Merino Breeders (AASMB) and its State branches were preparing a position on the INF program.

"I am looking forward to their proposal and further discussions on the issue," Mr Merriman said.

AASMB president Phil Toland, of Toland Merinos, Violet Town, Victoria, said the national position would be finalised soon after the different State associations had their meetings.

Mr Toland said that he would support AWI funding for the INF program.

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