On 27 November 2012, following questions at the Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) Annual General Meeting, AWI posted a document on their web site summarising reasons why it decided not to fund the continuation of the award-winning Information Nucleus program.
The CRC disagrees with many of the statements made by AWI and has documented these points below by responding to each of the reasons given by AWI for not supporting the Information Nucleus program.
AWI also made mention of a possible alternative program to the Information Nucleus. However, there are no details currently available to objectively assess the possible alternative approach. The CRC and its Participants are very confident that the design of the Information Nucleus program has been optimised to provide the most cost-effective method of delivering genomic information and products to the Australian sheep industry. The possibility of developing a parallel project to the IN program appears to run the risk of duplication.
The Information Nucleus program has been outstandingly successful in delivering new genetic information and a range of genomic products to the sheep industry. Industry and producer organisations are supporting a funding application to extend the life of the Sheep CRC, in order to capitalise on the foundation laid by the Information Nucleus program. Genetic improvement is the best way of improving productivity gain and the information nucleus approach is proving to be an ideal design for cost-effective progress.
The bridge to commercial delivery is through Sheep Genetics and these arrangements for commercialisation were established at the start of the CRC. All information on improved genetic parameters is provided to breeders quickly and effectively through Sheep Genetics.
Pilot projects conducted in 2010, 2011 and 2012 provide an indication of growing industry consensus on the commercial value of the genomic information. The increasing acceptance of the technology by industry is demonstrated by the increasing number of rams genotyped in the pilot projects increasing from 480 in 2010, to 860 in 2011, and 3,000 in 2012.
As predicted, the cost of genotyping has fallen and will be $50 per animal for 2013.
We are not aware of the details of AWI’s benefit-cost analysis that indicates $20 as the breakeven cost point for genomic testing.
MLA has conducted a comprehensive analysis based on case studies with a range of leading ram breeders to determine the break even cost for using genomic technologies. In the Merino industry, the benefit-cost analysis indicated that breeders could afford to pay over $150 per test and still deliver benefits to breeders and producers. At $50/test the benefits are clear-cut.
New technologies are usually first adopted by leading breeders and the benefits are generally higher for the top breeders as they can sell more rams at a higher price. A lower genotyping cost would indeed lead to a further and more widespread adoption, extending to the multiplier level. Current trends and early results in cattle indicate that the price of genotyping will decrease further towards the $20 level over the next years.
Analysis of potential benefits from using genomic technologies consistently points to far greater benefits for the Merino sector than for specialist meat breeds. The Merino benefits result from prediction of lifetime wool performance (fibre diameter and fleece weight), reproduction efficiency, resistance to parasites (WEC), breech wrinkle and other visual traits.
The number of Merino studs participating in MERINOSELECT may well be 13 to 15% of the total number of studs. However, it is estimated that these breeders sell around 30% of Merino rams and over 60% of Merino semen and their contribution to the future gene pool is therefore likely to be significant.
The adoption rates for use of genomic technologies documented in the business case for INF2 already appear to be conservative given the genotyping of 3,000 rams in 2012 and all indications of this number increasing substantially in 2013.
Evidence from the increasing use of genomics in all livestock industries and the rapid uptake of genomic testing through the Sheep CRC genomic pilot projects indicates that there is already a good understanding of its potential benefits.
There are numerous peer-reviewed publications on the Information Nucleus design (e.g. Animal Production Science, 2010, 50, 998–1003) and on the accuracy of genomic predictions, which is validated with progeny tested industry sires with highly accurate ASBVs. The CRC is willing to provide a list to AWI if required.
Maintenance of a reference population is an ongoing requirement for breeding programs using genomic technologies. New models are required to refine the design of the resource flock and who pays for measurements in the longer term. But this is not different from ongoing sire evaluation schemes. Overall, the expense is easily outweighed by the benefit of genetic improvement of millions of sheep over many years.
Ongoing validation is essential for any genetic improvement program and improvements need to be implemented where needed. INF2 covers a wide spectrum of available merino genetics and the CRC has analysed the data and planned the INF2 well aware of the variation within and across the various sub groups.
As indicated above, MLA has conducted a formal assessment of benefits through a series of case studies with breeders using MERINOSELECT and LAMBPLAN showing good value for testing at current prices.
Industry assessment of benefits has been through the genomic Pilot Projects and the steady increase of uptake each year (480 -> 860 -> 3,000 rams tested per year) suggests that breeders are finding value in the tests.
The suggestion to have breeders pay for entering rams in the resource flock program has been dropped.
This point pertains to ASBVs and is not relevant to the Information Nucleus and its ability to support the development of new genomic products which will deliver productivity improvements to the Merino sector. The Information Nucleus assists in industry understanding the genetic variations and performances of different flocks. There is clear evidence from participating producers and the cost-benefit analysis by MLA that adoption of genomic technologies has delivered increased profitability at farm level.