AWI support ‘disappointing’

The lack of industry support for Australia’s primary research sheep flock has frustrated one of the nations most DNA tested prime lamb studs.

Murray Long, Riverina White Suffolk and composite breeder is committed to research – he has contributed about 70 reference sires for genomic tenting and the Information Nucleus Flock.

Mr Long, from Ardlethan, has labeled the Australian Wool Innovation’s (AWI) withdrawal of support from the second phase of the Information Nucleus Flock as ‘disappointing’.

“It is a shame to see the information that has

been collected become useless,” he said.

The Information Nucleus Flock is a 5000-head flock, comprised of Merino and crossbred ewes and was established by the Sheep Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) in 2008 to provide progeny testing and contribute to genomic (DNA) research.

Over past two years, Mr Long has contributed almost 40 young rams from his Pendarra stud to be DNA tested under the Sheep CRC pilot programs.

These programs are part of pre-commercialisation research on genetic markers for a range of eating quality traits, such as tenderness, intra muscular fat and lean meat yield.

The researchers have isolated groups of genes that align themselves with particular traits however after two to three generations or three to six years these gene groups can change and testing needs to be done again.

Mr Long pointed out that this means millions of dollars already spent on the program would ultimately amount to nothing without continuing industry support and commitment to an ongoing reference flock.

“The Merino makes up a significant portion of the Australian lamb industry yet AWI has chosen not to support ongoing DNA referencing through the information nucleus flock,” Mr Long said.

As a member of several national sheep industry committees, Mr Long said that the Merino industry should be embracing DNA testing with a passion.

“It is unfortunate that all this money has been spent but they (AWI) are not prepared to encompass the information,” he said.

Mr Long said lambs with exceptional eating quality could be potentially sourced in future by processors and DNA testing also gave breeders the confidence to select potential sires at a younger age.

“I see potential in the development of lines of superior meat eating quality genetics, with the advantage of lamb producers gaining a premium,’’ Mr Long said highlighting the benefit from the farmer to the plate.

“DNA is the ultimate truth test and is not influenced by environment. It therefore, provides an unbiased means of determining genetic makeup of the animal.’’

Mr Long said performance recording using Lambplan coupled with DNA testing gave a highly accurate genetic map, benefiting all from lamb producers to consumers.

Sheep Genetics support the Information Nucleus Flock and manager Sam Gill said the lamb industry had made remarkable progress since the early 1990s.

Mr Gill said the development of genomic testing now offered new opportunities for faster and better-balanced genetic gain.

Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and Australian Meat Processors Corporation have co-funded the 2012 artificial insemination program, which is expected to produce more than 5,000 lambs later this year.

MLA research and development strategy and evaluation manager Dr Robert Banks confirmed the board had committed $2.2 million for progeny performance recording and genotyping offspring over the next two years.

“MLA is investing in this project to ensure that Australia’s meat sheep industries have the technology and know-how to capitalize on this new opportunity,’’ Dr Banks said.

He said MLA would aim to keep resource flocks focused on traits that could not be recorded by farmers.

Mr Long sees the DNA testing of sheep as one aspect of the future of the sheep industry.

“Farmers and the industry have a lot to gain,” he said, “The findings will disappear if we lose a reference flock.”

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