AWI’s new $950,000 flystrike investment welcomed

Terry Sim, October 25, 2021

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

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.



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  1. Doug Wright, October 28, 2021

    I suspect that this project will take many years and be in keeping with AWI’s idea that it takes 15 years or so to produce a non-mulesed type sheep.
    All that does is to keep the traditional type going for many years and obviously keeping those with vested interest in the past happy.
    Everything that this project wants to achieve can be done in two sheep generations by using the genetic solution. Simply, the work has been done and people are doing it and have been for years.
    It is no wonder they are asking for a 2 percent levy as they need to finance projects like this.
    AWI is determined to show that it is always right and can’t admit that someone is ahead of them and has already achieved things.
    How long can all this keep going on for?

  2. Donald Cameron, October 26, 2021

    What has AWI ever achieved?

    What difference has the funds spent by AWI made to wool growers day-to-day operation?

    Why did a past chairman hide behind a one-way mirror to spy on the next generation?

    When can we stop the Nats shielding AWI from the harsh realities of today’s wool market?

  3. Sherrie Cordie, October 26, 2021

    It’s wonderful that so much money has been promised. How about they start with tail length? There doesn’t appear to be any research since the 1940s, apart from a rehash of this same data in the 2000s. Longer tails and even undocked tails resulted in less flystrike than medium length or short-docked tails, that became popular with the advent and popularity of mulesing in the 1940s. More dag, but far less flystrike? Could it be that simple, that tails swat and dissuade flies? Just a suggestion that AWI researchers take a peek at what’s been done before. It may not prove correct in today’s intensive farming environment, but I don’t think it’d cost much to trial.

  4. Chick Olsson, October 26, 2021

    Well done AWI, these types of projects are crucial to the betterment of the Aussie wool flock. I am predicting one of the worst fly seasons ahead, and with fly resistance to chemicals rising, this, in my opinion, is the single largest and most immediate threat to our industry’s existence.

    • Jim Gordon, October 26, 2021

      Chick, this $950,000 is a complete waste of money. I keep asking: How do we stop this army of people on the payroll of AWI? $60 million has been spent. Are we going to spend $100 million on fly prevention? There are so many research projects we do need.
      I can tell you, in one paragraph, why sheep get flyblown, and in the second paragraph, how to breed sheep that don’t get flyblown. I am a commercial sheep breeder and am totally sick of paying levies for these wasted projects. We’re not running a charity.
      We don’t need to spend any more money on fly prevention. All the work has been done.

  5. Doug Wright, October 25, 2021

    Here we go again, a vaccine and now a project to re-invent the wheel. SimpliFly they are calling it. The work has been done on breeding fly-proof sheep, with a large number having been producing them since 2006.
    I would suggest to AWI to have a look at what these producers are doing before going down the proposed pathway and spending another $950,000.

  6. Paul Favaloro, October 25, 2021

    Using ASBV’s chasing clean wool cut is the wrong way to go if you want to breed fly-resistant sheep. Fly-struck sheep cut less wool if they survive.
    AWI please read The Australian Merino by Charles Massy. Pages 936-946 and H.B. Carter’s work (1950’s-1990’s). All the research has been done.
    The late Dr. Jim Watts developed a visual assessment to implement this. The result is a fly-resistant sheep, not required to be mulesed, no need for chemicals and with higher lambing rates.
    The down side is that growers will have to shear twice a year because they produce 17 micron wool, 70mm long in six months.

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