GAINS in reproductive efficiency in Merino ewes and the ability to increase carcase weight and yield without compromising eating quality were key factors in Meat and Livestock Australia's (MLA) decision to back the second Information Nucleus Flock (INF2).
That's according to MLA managing director Scott Hansen who said MLA was investing $2.2 million in INF2.
"The business case that we have looked at look at includes a whole range of factors, but in just one of those factors, around eating quality and genomic testing, the ability for us to test for improved carcase yield while maintaining eating quality in sheep alone makes this a justifiable investment in information nucleus flock," he said.
"Work out of the Sheep CRC (Co-operative Research Centre) already shows that if we continue to grow our prime lambs at the rate they're growing in terms of the rate of genetic gain, (and) if we continue to strive for increased lean meat yield, we're going to lead to a decrease in the eating quality of the lamb."
He said lamb was not the cheapest meat on the shelf, but could afford to be the premium protein for the consumer as long it continued to provide the quality attributes those consumers had come to expect and were prepared to pay for.
"We need to find a way to combine those goals, because increasing carcase weight was the key platform for keeping ahead of the increasing production cost of producers," he said.
MLA had calculated the value of the proposition of INF2 was a $1.5 billion return on investment (cumulative return across the next 25 years).
However, the worst case scenario, which would be to continue with the current rate of yield increase without maintaining or improving eating quality, could cost $1.2b.
Central to progress was genomics and the ability to decrease costs to producers to map an animal's DNA.
He said this cost was presently at $40-$50, but needed to decline further in years to come.
However, for the DNA markers to be meaningful it was also important to not only map those genes, but to identify the correlating physical traits of those genes (known as phenotype), as an expression of performance.
This required a research flock representative of the industry's genetics, such as INF2, where the animal's physical traits were also measured.
A flock such as this could also allow research into the impact of specific nutrient treatments, pharmaceuticals and methane emissions.
But it was in reproductive efficiency where the biggest gains to productivity could be made.
Mr Hansen said Merino ewes were expected to provide the base for the country's breeding flock into the foreseeable future, but current weaning rates were estimated at just 75-85 per cent.
"We don't see any reason why the national average couldn't be 100pc, which would be an extra six million lambs a year."
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