Raising the Odds of Research Communication

AUSTRALIA - Contrary to the reaction most would have to odds of 100-to-one, in the field of delivering livestock research and development (R&D) outcomes to producers, it’s a multiplying effect that actually increases the chance of success.
calendar icon 13 March 2009
clock icon 3 minute read
Meat & Livestock Australia

The challenge of communicating and converting the livestock industry’s R&D into practical, localised benefits for a producer’s operation is at least partly overcome through consultancy networks.

Ninety consultants – estimated to communicate with more than 9,000 southern livestock producers – met at an ‘R&D Insights’ forum hosted by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) and Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) in Melbourne recently to discuss the latest results of their research and efficient ways to disseminate this information.

According to MLA Lamb and Sheepmeat R&D Manager Dr Alex Ball, the forum provided a format to share the latest information with consultants who have key relationships with livestock producers.

“This audience is a vital intermediary between the research and development bodies and the wider community,” Dr Ball said.

“The footprint the State departments and private consultants have is significant.

“The 90 people present today, including representatives from the livestock industry, would likely influence well over 9,000 producers.”

Included in the program were sessions on climate change, optimising fertiliser applications to bolster feed, breech strike, sheep genetics and beef genomics.

Dr Ball provided an update on the Sheep CRC, which MLA and AWI contributed $10 million each to the $120 million seven-year budget.

“The current approach is to build the Sheep CRC around an Information Nucleus (IN) – a flock of 5,000 ewes joined annually to 100 leading industry sires (35 meat breed, 25 dual purpose/maternal breed and 40 Merinos) to generate information that will help us understand the genes required to meet consumer satisfaction,” Dr Ball said.

“With data on more than 100 traits collected from the IN flock we will be able to better devise Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBV) for new traits like yield, meat colour and tenderness.

“We will be able to predict the genetic direction of the Australian sheep flock for the traits consumers want.”

Associate Professor Wayne Pitchford, Beef CRC Program Manager for feed efficiency, maternal productivity and responsible resource use, updated participating consultants on his project which involves working with large stud herds and intensively managed research herds to study interactions between body composition, feed efficiency and maternal productivity.

“The project is in the middle of data collection and so only some very preliminary results are available,” Dr Pitchford said.

“Early information indicates that selection for net feed intake (NFI) does improve the efficiency of the cow-calf unit; that would be very exciting if it holds up.”

Focussing R&D to help producers adjust to the effects of climate change proved a hot topic between several consultants and was addressed extensively at the forum.

University of Melbourne Associate Professor Richard Eckard discussed the Whole Farms Systems Analysis and Tools (WFSAT) project, which has led to improved modelling capability in grazing systems across Australia and New Zealand.

The modelling team used the tools last year to assess the impact of projected climate change in 2030 and 2070 on seasonal pasture growth of species in southern Australia.

Dr Eckard said there would be little change in 2030 but in 2070 a tropical Setaria/annual ryegrass system in northern Australia was predicted to receive 15 percent more pasture growth in spring and early summer.

A pasture mix of tropical and temperate native species in Barrabra in northern NSW would improve by 52 percent, albeit off a low production base, while there would be 15 percent less annual growth from perennial ryegrass in Hamilton in western Victoria but more growth through winter.

Dr Eckard’s team is now working with MLA on preparing regional consultative groups to discuss the results with producers and work with them to adapt to climate change.

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