Aus seedstock industry ‘great genetic hunters and gatherers, but abysmal exporters’

James Nason August 5, 2016
Ced Wise

Ced Wise

AUSTRALIA’S seedstock industry has a problem, veterinarian and artificial breeding expert Ced Wise told a genetics  forum in Brisbane yesterday.

“We are hidebound, and we’re not expanding as an industry,” Dr Wise told the Australian Registered Cattle Breeders Association seminar, on the opening day of the Brisbane Ekka.

“We are doing great work within our industry in Australia, but we haven’t mastered how to export our genetics to the rest of the world.”

Australian seedstock breeders, both beef and sheep, had been very good genetic “hunters and gatherers,” he said.

They had travelled the world to source the very best genetics available, brought them home and moulded them to their environment, and measured and multiplied those genetics very well.

“But then we promptly sat back on our laurels, only to repeat the exercise in a decade or so, to go back and grab a few more.

“We have an abysmal record of participation in the world genetics semen and embryo trade, other than being buyers.”

The true extent of Australia’s failure to develop a strong genetics export industry had been well documented.

Figures vary, with some breeders citing figures showing Australian exports of bovine genetics total less than $2m a year, while the Department of Agriculture says the figure is around $7-$8m a year.

Canada outstrips Australian sheep genetics exports

Either way, Australia, despite its wealth of quality, productive livestock genetics, is a bit player in a large global industry.

Canada, with a herd of around 11 million cattle, half the size of Australia’s, exports $88m worth of bovine genetics each year.

The US exports more than $140m per year.

Perhaps more surprisingly, Canada, with just 800,000 sheep, also exports far more sheep genetics than Australia, with a flock of more than 70 million sheep.

More than a decade ago ARCBA estimated that the market for Australian live cattle breeding semen embryo and support services should exceed $150 million per annum.

At Beef 2012, leading geneticists Arthur Rickard and Don Nicol estimated the market was over $300 million.

Their seminal 2012 report identified several good reasons why Australia should be a major player in the export of cattle genetics:

  • Australia already has the infrastructure and expertise to be major exporter of breeding cattle,
  • Australia is free of most of the serious infection diseases of cattle,
  • Australia has cattle of many breeds available from a range of climates to meet many markets,
  • Many cattle are from large herds where effective selection is practised,
  • Australia’s genetics are backed by world leading science (Beef and Dairy CRCs) and genetic evaluation systems (BREEDPLAN for beef and ADHIS for dairy cattle),
  • All major breeds of cattle are backed by world-leading pedigree systems from ABRI,
  • An independent quality assurance system is in place for both dairy and beef exports for breeding, and
  • Technical support is available to importing countries.

Ced Wise said Australian beef cattle genetics are unique to the world and ideally suited to tropical and sub-tropical climates, where most of the world’s cattle production is moving.

Since the Rickards/Nicol report there has been a concerted push from elements within the Australian seedstock industry to grow this opportunity.

Opinions are divided on how much has been achieved since that time.

The Federal Government says progress is being made, pointing to work since 2013 to negotiate new or improved market access for a range of cattle, sheep, goat and poultry genetic products into overseas markets including the United States, Chile, China, Mexico, India, Colombia, Peru, New Caledonia, and the Falkland Islands.

Exports of bovine genetics had risen from $4.4 million in 2010-11 to $7.6 million in 2014-15, Ag minister Barnaby Joyce said.

However, even with that growth, Australia still holds a very small share of the overall global market.

Breeders say what is most needed is for the Federal Government to proactively negotiate a standard protocol with customer countries, and to help in the formation of a single body to manage and promote oversee livestock genetic exports from Australia.

Breeders told Beef Central at yesterday’s forum that Canada has a standard protocol with all importing countries, and as a result, their genetic exporters only have to conduct a single test on an animal to have access to a wide range of export markets for that animal’s genetics.

Australia by comparison had individual protocols with every individual importing country, and exporters must test the same animal multiple times to comply with the requirements of each customer country, adding significant costs and inhibiting opportunities. Difficulties interpreting each protocol were also a challenge.

Government moves to develop a “genetic hub” based in Melbourne had led to increased fees for exporters without a corresponding increase in efficiency to offset the higher costs, Dr Wise said.

New biosecurity legislation had also placed more restrictions and costs on exporters, further restricting export viability.

The industry also needed better marketing, Dr Wise said.

“It is pretty simply really – it doesn’t happen,” he said.

‘We sit here and hope that somebody from around the world will come and knock on our door and it isn’t going to happen’

“We sit here and hope that somebody from around the world will come and knock on our door and it isn’t going to happen.”

Dr Wise said a strong need exists for the formation of a single body to oversee the genetic export opportunity for all livestock industries – cattle (beef and dairy), sheep and goats.

The good news for advocates of increased genetics exports is that their push gained funding support in the form of a $250,000 pre-election commitment by Federal agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce to the Ruminant Group Trade Advisory Group (RGTAG) to grow genetic export opportunities.

However, Dr Wise said there was is still no clarity for the industry, or from the group that received the money – the dairy-focused National Herd Improvement Association – on how and where that money will be spent.

Dr Wise said establishing a new multi-industry body with a permanent secretariat and a single point of contact embedded within Meat & Livestock Australia would be “a great place to start”.

“We also need to develop an Australian standard protocol to minimise biosecurity risks but maximise market access.”


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