AUSTRALIAN Wool Innovation’s $950,000 investment to accelerate research into flystrike sheep genomics and hold workshops on breeding for natural flystrike resistance has been welcomed by the industry.
However, AWI’s planned Breeding for Flystrike Resistance workshops will not be piloted until mid-2022 and the investment has opened up the issue of workshop content, and of AWI employing sheep classers critical of the role of objective and genetic sheep selection.
At the recent Parkdale Merino Stud virtual open day, when it was proposed that SRS Merino founder, the late Dr Jim Watts had already done the work on selecting and developing flystrike-resistant Merinos, AWI chairman Jock Laurie said AWI was “not going to tell growers what classing method they should or shouldn’t use.”
“There is no doubt there are different views on how to class sheep, we at AWI don’t want to get involved in that.”
Mr Laurie said he had been to AWI sheep classing days conducted by Stuart Hodgson and others by Dr Watts.
New South Wales non-mulesed Merino breeder Martin Oppenheimer welcomed the investment as “never too late”, but said: “AWI has not only got to talk the talk, they’ve got to walk the walk.”
“There is no point doing anything like this while they still are employing ex-stud agents who are denigrating the use of ASBVs, genomics and objective breeding.
“There is no point employing those people to attend ram sales, to attend field days, shows and ewe competitions and to run workshops when they are not all saying the same thing,” he said.
“When they appoint people who have breeding theories based on their own beliefs and hearsay rather than on science then it is basically a waste of time and money.
“These people have been used by the current AWI staff and board to try to indoctrinate young people in the industry to a certain way of thinking.”
Mr Oppenheimer said AWI’s culture, strategy and programs had to be science-backed and mindful of what will be required of growers to meet consumer concerns and future Merino wool demand.
Mr Laurie told Sheep Central today there is still a lot of work to be done to improve the rigour of genomics as a flystrike tool, but he has already had discussions about getting balance into AWI’s sheep classing workshops between sheep conformation/structure selection and the use of ASBVs. He said it is critical that growers understand how to use structural assessment and ASBVs in sheep selection. Future AWI workshops would include both components, allowing growers to decide how much importance they should put on physical attributes and genetic tools.
“My view has always been that you need to utilise both and so that’s why I’ve had the discussions.”
WoolProducers president Ed Storey said there is already a lot of information available on genetic selection to minimise flystrike risk.
“People have been using Australian Sheep Breeding Values in this area for years.”
Mr Storey said AWI’s research team has a lot of information about sheep selection and tools to minimise flystrike.
“If AWI is coming on board and has a strategy to get these workshops out there and encourage people to take note of and utilise information that’s readily available, we very much welcome it.
“However, WoolProducers has been calling for AWI to also relay global market sentiments regarding mulesing back to Australian growers to ensure that producers are informed on market trends and how that relates to their own wool-growing enterprise to best prepare them to meet consumer expectations now and into the future.”
New investment takes AWI flystrike investment to $9.9 million
AWI said the new $950,000 commitment will take its total investment breeding for flystrike resistance related research, development and extension projects since 2005 to $9.9 million.
In August, AWI also announced an additional $650,000 to fast-track further investigations into the development of a flystrike vaccine.
AWI chairman Jock Laurie said flystrike remains one of the biggest challenges for Australian wool growers.
“The breeding of more profitable naturally resistant sheep to flystrike is a core research project for AWI and we are putting more money into it.
“As the industry’s Wool2030 strategy highlighted, growers want to have confidence and tools to manage flystrike without mulesing,” he said.
Evidence of increasing blowfly resistance to chemicals and the shortage in shearers are extra reasons why AWI will speed up this work.”
AWI said the new Breeding for Flystrike Resistance workshop is expected to have a similar format to existing successful AWI workshops “Ramping up Repro” and “Winning with Weaners”, with a practical approach.
The workshop resources will draw on existing information, including from AWI’s Breeding for Breech Flystrike Resistance flocks, the Merino Lifetime Productivity (MLP) Project and MERINOSELECT.
AWI said the new workshop builds on another AWI workshop that is currently being piloted. SimpliFly is to be a one-day workshop for wool growers looking to implement strategic flystrike control on their property, and will introduce the concept of breeding for flystrike resistance as part of a holistic whole-of-farm plan, AWI said.
AWI said SimpliFly participants will explore the many short and long-term flystrike management tools and strategies, including breeding, that are available to them to help combat flystrike.
“They will also work through practical activities that enable them to combine these strategies and tools on their own property according to a customised annual flystrike management plan that best suits their specific circumstances.
“The six planned pilot SimpliFly workshops have been delayed by COVID-19, but the first two will be held in NSW from late October, and further pilots are to be held early next year in Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia,” AWI said.
“Learnings from the SimpliFly pilots will in turn inform the development of the Breeding for Flystrike Resistance workshops, which are expected to be piloted from mid-2022.”
The workshops will draw on the information and interactive decision tools that are available on ParaBoss.com.au
AWI said while the immediate focus to reduce the risk of flystrike is on lower wrinkle, dags, urine stain and cover, further genomic R&D provides the opportunity for these traits to be genomically enhanced, to create a stand-alone breech strike ASBV and provide genomic tools to assist wool growers that are not part of the ASBV system.
The search for variations in the DNA associated with flystrike risk (or alternatively susceptibility) has long been a vision for the wool industry, AWI said. All existing flystrike phenotypes and genotypes need to be pooled and analysed and further data needs to be collected to achieve these outcomes.
AWI said it is building on its earlier sheep genomic flystrike resistance work by increasing the human resources dedicated to wool issues. The additional investment will now create two post-doctoral positions targeted at flystrike, working on the Merino Lifetime Productivity Project and a range of further refinements to merino genetic benchmarking technology.