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Australian Wool Innovation funded MerinoSelect could be commercialised. An audit of the genetic and genomic programs funded by Australian Wool Innovation has shown the MerinoSelect program has been so successful it could operate on a “user pays” basis. The program hopes to improve genetic traits across the Australian Merino flock.

However it has come at a cost, the BDA group report shows the return for woolgrowers is 45 cents in every dollar invested in the genetic research between 2010-2013. Dr Paul Swan, General Manager of Research at Australian Wool Innovation, said while the return is not ideal, the investment will prove itself over time.

“It’s not a positive return on investment, but in part that’s because half or more of the money that has been included in the evaluations is the DNA marker based technology, which is just starting to pay off now,” he said.

“So for the period of this review half of the investment was in an area where the benefit has not come through yet, so that’s the main reason the benefit is not as large as we’d like.”

The MerinoSelect program was assessed to be profitable, not only covering its operating costs, but also benefiting woolgrowers who sourced rams from participating stud breeders.

“What we’ve created is the national sheep genetics database, it’s a hub for genetic improvement for genetic benchmarking, but also to allow our industry to improve our genetic stocks in areas that are important but are hard to measure, that we need for the future,” said Dr Swan

“The technology is proving successful there are well over 250 merino or allied breed studs using the MerinoSelect component, and arguably it represents 40 per cent plus of the Merino genes in circulation, so that’s quite a substantial achievement.

“And now it’s got to a point where the economists that we listen to say that we should have a look at whether [MerinoSelect] could stand on its own two feet, because we don’t have unlimited R and D (research and development) dollars, so it’s whether those dollars can be better spent on other areas.”

But Dr Swan ruled out removing funding from Merino Select in the short term despite data showing its potential for commercial application. “It’s not something you abandon, especially after this hard work has gone in to what is a national asset,” he said. “There is discussion underway, there has been consultation with key stakeholders.

“(Meat and Livestock Australia) and (Australian Wool Innovation) will have discussions about how things progress, particularly where you draw the line between a commercial or self funding bit and the bits which continue to need R and D investment.”

Dr Swan said genetics are a key part of setting up the Australian wool industry for the future. “If you and I look back in 20 years time, there’s a couple of things we can be confident about,” he said. “The industry will look different, Australia will continue to be the genetic leaders especially in the merino production around the world.

“Our sheep will be more resistant to disease, more fertile, they’ll grow faster, they’ll be more efficient, they’ll be more resilient. There’s a whole lot that we can continue to expect in our industry and genetics is a really key part of that.”

Source: ABC Rural

 

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