MLA’s Richard Norton puts case for one sheep industry RDC

Sheep Central, February 28, 2018

MLA managing director Richard Norton

AUSTRALIA’S sheep meat and wool industries should be served by a single research and development, Meat & Livestock Australian managing director Richard Norton has told a recent MLA forum.

At the MLA Livestock Breeding and Genetics Forum in Brisbane last week, Mr Norton said such a move would increase value for sheep producers at the farm gate.

“And whilst both sides of industry from meat and wool have completely different strategies – and I wouldn’t say both sides do have completely different strategies, I think MLA, I think we have close to $10 million of MDC funding with Merino producers who have raised $5 million and matched it with MDC funding to do work around genomics and genetics in the Merino breed,” he said.

“I just think obviously if there is one sheep RDC, expenses for a start for delivering research would be addressed, and obviously then the whole industry would be working to one objective.

“It surprises me that the sheep industry – one side of the industry is supporting CRCs, one side is supporting sheep genetics, and the other side is completely opposed to it,” he said.

“We will probably sit here in 10 or 15 years’ time and work out who was right, but today we could actually work together and drive innovation  through the industry for at worst a dual purpose sheep.”

On whether a single sheep industry RDC would involve AWI taking over sheep meat research and development or MLA taking over wool R&D, he said it would be “industry’s decision.”

“I have said that is industry’s decision, industry can work out what it is, as an observer in industry it is frustrating trying to do projects where some of the iontellectual property is held by AWI, some is held by MLA, some is held by the Sheep CRC, etc when the average person would say, well just get on with it.

“You spend six months of a lifetime of a project working out can you get access to the IP held by various parts of the industry.”

Mr Norton believed the sheep industry was not making anywhere near the gains it could be if the sheep meat and wool sectors worked together under one RDC.

“In my opinion, yes.

“If the whole of industry worked together and pooled the resource funds, so that you could go out and in the next financial year only 20pc of MLA’s income for research and development would come from levies.

“The ability to go out and bring in commercial partners to help fund the research is the future of RDCs in this country,” he said.

“You can’t do that while it is disjointed.”


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  1. Kieran Ransom, March 5, 2018

    I think there is a lot of simplistic ‘wool knocking’ by some people pushing the sheep meat industry bandwagon.
    Six to 10 years ago when I was with the Vic DPI I listened to talks by our policy people, some with a background in economics, saying the wool industry was insignificant and declining. Their suggestion was DPI should forget wool and concentrate on meat.
    My analyses suggests that new age dual purpose meat and wool production has a 30 to 50 percent gross margin advantage over meat emphasis enterprises using historical 25 year prices. In the last two years the advantage would be 100pc.
    The first step of a single R&D body might be to cut out wool promotion.
    Knocking AWI for its lack of genetics funding is also simplistic. I am a strong believer in modern genetics. If funding is limited, maybe we should concentrate on implementing the last 50 years of excellent genetics research. The additional benefits of further genetics R&D above the current knowledge level needs to be examined; eg we know a fair bit about breeding against internal parasites – but adoption is limited.
    I also think two groups are better than one monopoly group, diversity and discussion are the basis of progress — there would be collaboration in areas of mutual benefit.

  2. James Jackson, March 5, 2018

    For many years the MLA-AWI option has been tossed around both industries. It obviously has some merit. It is useful to have strategic alignment between R&D efforts of wool and meat, as they are by-products of each others industry. It is also sensible that levy rates are looked at together as I fear SPA will review mutton levies in isolation of consideration of AWI levies.
    Some of the activities of MLA and AWI are similar enough to get significant savings in overheads. However, some of there activity requires significantly different skill sets.
    Another option to achieve better co-ordination between different parts of the sheep is to have a “one-sheep” oversight body with the merger of WoolProducers and Sheep Producers Australia to create an oversight body that would have the scale and capacity to consult, create aligned strategy and include the RO status for AWI and MLA sheep meat. This new body could potentialy include the emerging lot feeding sector and small sheep dairy sector.
    Richard Norton appears to be having a thought bubble weekly at the moment. The problem is that last week’s thought bubble of throwing the wool industry under a bus with his mulesing comments doesn’t help with this week’s thought, which would require everybody’s blood pressure to settle down, to give it due consideration.

  3. Jane Overnewton, March 2, 2018

    Yes, let’s get on with it and incorporate into one division led by a strong leader who is not swayed by history or divisive thoughts. This is a great opportunity for a collaborative team to rid the elephant in the room and climb out of Jurassic Park.

  4. Johnny Gardner, March 1, 2018

    An absolutely fantastic insight Mr Norton. Thank you for addressing the elephant in the room of our industries. Now please, put it into action. Collaboration achievements stem from an ability to inspire trust, confidence and commerce success in others. Let’s acknowledge a positive history and now look forward to a collaborative progressive future.

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