A VICTORIAN Farmers Federation call for sheep industry co-operation on breech flystrike research is seeking to end the rift between Australian Wool Innovation and Meat & Livestock Australia on the issue.
The VFF has called for both bodies to collaborate on “unprecedented investment” on breech flystrike research, including mulesing, despite their recent public differences on mulesing policy and research progress.
VFF Livestock Group president Leonard Vallance said the VFF had noted MLA managing director Richard Norton’s comments that the sheep meat industry was exposed to the issue of mulesing.
“So our thoughts are based around if you are going make comments and lecture the industry perhaps you should put some money next to it.
“We are just kicking the ball around a bit, getting the discussion happening,” he said.
“We all know that mulesing has got a limited life; in the consumers’ eyes it is not a good look.
“We all know why mulesing is there, but the consumer wants the industry to find a better alternative than what we currently do,” Mr Vallance said.
“Mulesing is an excellent tool given what we’ve got to work with, but in the future, is there a quicker, more permanent solution to the problem of the blow fly?”
The VFF said breech strike and associated management practices, such as mulesing, present the single biggest threat to the Australian wool and sheep meat producers. However, the current level of investment is disproportionately small in comparison to the threat, while income from the wool levy is at an all-time high, the federation said.
Politics and personalities must be put aside in pursuit of the best outcomes for sheep farmers and their flocks, the VFF said.
“The two industry research and development corporations must come together to work on this issue and deliver for their levy payers,” Mr Vallance said.
“How hard would it be for them to have a Memorandum of Understanding to resolve the issue of the blow fly?
“Get over your grandstanding from your dung hills and get on with it, do something for the industry.”
MLA needs to lead with investment
In a media release today, the VFF said AWI states flystrike costs wool growers $173 million each year, with breech strike having the largest impact. However, despite this significant risk, AWI has invested only $3 million per year since 2005 to address the critical issue, the federation said.
The VFF said MLA has publicly criticised the wool industry’s response to the breech flystrike and mulesing issue, but as a major player needs to lead with investment not rhetoric.
“We want MLA to invest significantly on targeted, blue sky research,” Mr Vallance said.
“We can’t see why $10 million invested by each of MLA and AWI per year over five years isn’t appropriate.
“Let’s look at all the possibilities,” he said.
“What we can put on the sheep, in the sheep, how we can discourage the blowflies – we need to invest in our future.
“AWI have done some good work, but the prioritisation of research needs to be radical. Given the animal welfare and the economic impact at stake, we can’t just refine old ways of working. We need to look for new solutions.” Mr Vallance said.
AWI needs to release flystrike and mulesing data
The VFF call has prompted Mr Norton to declare that before MLA was to make any investment in breech flystrike and mulesing research, he suspected AWI would need to disclose to industry all the data on projects in the area for the last decade.
“Release all the work that you’ve done, where the money has gone and what it has achieved,” Mr Norton said.
“MLA, unlike AWI, works closely with its peak industry council, the Sheepmeat Council (now Sheep Producers Australia), on decisions of investment.
“Any decision MLA makes above our current investment in this area is not a decision MLA makes in isolation – it makes it with its peak industry council, because MLA is a service provider to industry,” Mr Norton said.
Mr Norton said even with doubling of wool prices, the lamb and sheep industry is still bigger than the wool industry and worth just under $4 billion annually.
“The sheep meat industry has come out and said no prime lamb should be mulesed and should use genetics and management to enable prime lamb mothers not to be mulesed.”
With SCA support, MLA has called for research into the economics and practicalities of ceasing mulesing in prime lamb production systems.
Mr Norton also said when mutton sheep are sold in Australia, the MLA levy receives about 16 cents per animal in a levy, generating about $1.7 million this year, compared to AWI’s 2016-17 levy income of more than $60 million.
“So there is a discrepancy in the income streams that an organisation like the VFF has failed to realise.”
Letter exchange highlights MLA-AWI stand-off
AWI chairman Wal Merriman, in a September 5 letter to MLA chair Michele Allan, expressed disappointment with Mr Norton’s comments on AWI’s ‘lack of progress’ in finding a mulesing alternative, despite investing $34 million in the last 10 years. Mr Merriman outlined AWI’s positions on Ovine Johne’s Disease and mulesing research, productivity gains, genetic evaluation and oversight, ending by stating that AWI staff “remain committed to co-funded work with MLA and stood ready to undertake further collaborations”.
However, Mr Norton said MLA chair Michele Allan replied to Mr Merriman’s letter on October 16, requesting access to AWI mulesing research and Merino Lifetime Productivity Project data, but no response had been received. Ms Allan also said she would “welcome the opportunity to discuss other opportunities for enhance collaboration in projects of shared interest to the sheep meat and wool industries.” Mr Norton said AWI chief executive officer Stuart McCullough has also not responded to a November 10 letter proposing development of terms enabling data from the MLP project to be included in the MERINOSELECT database.
The VFF said genetics is a long-term solution to breech flystrike, but current industry culture requires a seemingly insurmountable change to implement it effectively. Pain relief measures are an improvement in practice, and enhance animal welfare, but they are only a partial short-term solution, and consumer objections to surgery are not fully assuaged.
Sheep Central also asked AWI for a response to the VFF call for AWI-MLA collaboration.