Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) states that fly strike costs wool growers $173m each year with breech strike having the largest impact on the industry. Despite this significant risk, AWI have invested only $3m per year since 2005 to address this critical issue.
With the AWI AGM and elections in the rear view mirror, it’s Meat & Livestock Australia’s (MLA) turn this week. MLA has publicly criticised the wool industry’s response to the issue but as a major player needs to lead with investment not rhetoric.
“We want MLA to invest significantly on targeted, blue sky research,” VFF Livestock President Leonard 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. What we can put on the sheep, in the sheep, how we can discourage the blowflies – we need to invest in our future.” Mr Vallance said.
“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.”
Breech strike and the associated management practices, present the single biggest threat to the Australian sheep industry today. Both wool and sheepmeat producers are faced with the same challenges with breech strike. Politics and personalities must be put aside in pursuit of the best outcomes for sheep farmers and their flocks.
“The two industry Research and Development Corporations must come together to work on this issue and deliver for their levy payers,” said Mr Vallance.
Genetic breeding is one long term solution, 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. Consumer objections to surgery are not fully assuaged, and this is not an alternative in the long term.
The current level of investment is disproportionately small in comparison to the threat to the industry. The current income from the wool levy is at an all-time high. There is a saying that the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago; the second best time is today. The sheep industry has an opportunity to strike while the iron is hot. There is no better time to invest than now.