Livestock researchers focus on a future full of change

Published 13 July 2010

morrishinchA national conference at the University of New England this week is discussing research aimed at helping Australia’s livestock producers prosper in an environment of rapid change.

Participants in the 28th Biennial Conference of the Australian Society of Animal Production (ASAP) include local producers as well as research scientists. “Although this is a scientific meeting, we need to ensure that the research we’re doing is for the benefit of the producers themselves,” said ASAP federal president and chair of the conference’s organising committee, Dr Robert Herd from the Beef Industry Centre at UNE.

Titled “Livestock Production in a Changing Environment”, the conference has attracted about 200 delegates – from around Australia, and from New Zealand, the UK, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The four-day conference began on Monday 12 July with a talk by the Deputy Executive Director of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE), Paul Morris. Mr Morris outlined the challenges – including those associated with climate change – facing Australia’s livestock industries in contributing to global food security over the next four decades, when the worldwide demand for food is expected to increase by 70 per cent. Australia could contribute to global food security by increasing production, he said, but its more important role would be in helping developing countries to produce enough to meet their own needs.

He added there was a need for scientific research to be integrated with market research to ensure that producers enjoyed the benefits of innovation.

Dr Ian Johnsson, General Manager, Livestock Production Innovation, Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), outlined planned changes to the administration of government funding for agricultural research. Those changes – still at the conceptual stage – would introduce a nationally integrated research-and-development framework, he said.

While it was necessary, in the face of diminishing financial resources, to rationalise those resources in this way, he explained, the consequent reduction in competition could have the effect of “stifling” innovation.

Lock Rogers, president of the local producer-based marketing group Ebor Beef, said it was encouraging for the producers at the conference to see that so much research was being done. “There’s a lot of talk about reduced funding for research and development,” he said, “and whether producers will be able to benefit from those developments through extension activities.” Mr Rogers is one of about 20 members of Ebor Beef attending the conference.

One of the overseas delegates is Professor Nigel Scollan from Aberystwyth University in Wales, who is the president of ASAP’s sister organisation the British Society of Animal Science. “I’m looking at the challenges facing both our societies,” he said, “and looking for opportunities to cooperate.” Professor Scollan’s paper at the conference concerns the role of animal products in promoting human health.

The conference program on Wednesday 14 July includes a presentation by Professor Paul Hemsworth from the University of Melbourne on animal welfare in the context of animal production, and afternoon excursions for the delegates to learn about the latest research by the three UNE-based livestock industry Cooperative Research Centres: Beef, Sheep, and Poultry.

Thursday’s program will include the 1st Australian and New Zealand Spatially Enabled Livestock Management Symposium. Jointly funded by MLA and the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information, this symposium aims to open communication between technology developers, researchers, funding bodies and producers. Participants will discuss current and future work involving technologies for spatial tracking of livestock and dynamic monitoring of the grazing environment.

This free symposium, open to all interested people, will begin at 11 am in Lecture Theatre 2 in UNE’s Education Building.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here, taken at the conference, shows Paul Morris, Deputy Executive Director of ABARE (left) with ASAP Secretary Professor Geoff Hinch of UNE. It expands to include Dr Robert Herd (left) and MLA’s Dr Ian Johnsson.