Ovita aims to develop DNA markers that can enable more efficient selection of sheep with superior production characteristics. We are now entering a new technology phase in which the current gene discovery (and hence DNA marker) process will be reduced from 10 years to potentially 18 months. The Ovita project portfolio must reflect industry needs and ensure that the Ovita R&D pipeline is kept flowing. For Ovita, given its brief, the needs of the industry are defined as 'what it requires of its livestock if they are to provide the greatest sustainable profit to NZ farmers and enable them to make the most efficient, healthiest use of the industry resources available.' Ovita's requirement is to support the industry in focusing its research portfolio to ensure as many of the industry needs are being targeted as possible.
On the 22 June 2008 Ovita held an Industry Needs Workshop with participants from across the value chain. The participants were asked to identify their industry vision 15 years out and consequently what roadblocks exist that would hinder the creation of that vision. By focusing on 15 years out the participants could envision a situation where the current problems that face the industry (that Ovita are pursuing in the current programme, for example, facial eczema, parasites etc) are no longer an issue.
A composite vision of the sheep industry in 2023 might read:
In 2023 the sheep (and beef) industry will be based in New Zealand's hill country, harvesting biomass production that would otherwise be unavailable to economic exploitation. High quality land remaining in sheep production will be committed to specialized finishing. Sheep will achieve standards of efficiency at least 50% higher than now and be bred to meet specific market requirements (eg cooking odour, meat colour, tenderness, freshness, wool fibre diameter). Centralised breeding programmes and corporate ownership will play a significant role as vehicles for integrating the industry throughout the value chain, for pursuing opportunities in co-products, and meeting environmental and animal welfare requirements.
The roadblocks were ranked as High, Medium or Low (H, M or L) according to their importance to producers, processors, consumers and the ability to solve them.
1. Opening new markets
2. Cost of animal production - low input/maintenance/labour
3. Consistency of supply - across the season and in lamb conformation
4. Ability to finish lambs - competing land use/specialist blocks
5. Potential to dial up 200% lambs weaned to ewes mated - no triplets
6. = Independent nature of the kiwi farmer
6. = Every ewe weaning their own body weight
6. = Ewe flock efficiency
Of the 8 roadblocks this was the highest ranked with a focus for Ovita on a new direction into products and deliverables for different and emerging markets - e.g. biologics, low odour meat in Asia, added value to wool, 'healthy' meat (e.g. Omega 3)
This highly ranked road block defined a need for sheep that are less labour intensive - yet maintain efficiency. The R&D focus highlighted genetics, animal welfare, ease of management, hygiene and low labour as solutions.
This road block has two aspects: A consistent supply of lamb across the year and also more consistency of product (for the supply chain and end consumers). Processors like to see more uniformity in raw materials (length and width) - the wide variety in animals makes it difficult to apply technology in processing. The solution is genetics first, which will then allow the application of processing technologies and market developments. There are significant management and farm systems solutions required here too.
This was defined as the pressure to finish lambs on good pasture-whilst that land use is under pressure from competing options (dairy, crop and urban expansion). The R&D solutions were structural, nutrition, growth rate and sustainable hill systems. The question asked was ‘where to finish?'. If we continue to lose access to flat arable land then we will require a new industry structure as well as a different sheep more suited to that environment. This sheep is defined in subsequent road blocks. We can expect a more co-operative integrated industry will evolve and its needs will have to be monitored carefully, predicted where possible and technologies developed where required.
The R&D solution was defined as a mix of lamb survival, animal welfare, genetics, efficiency and ewe health. It is not possible to make all the lambs born survive - but it is improvable through genetics focusing on ewe efficiency, lamb vigour and survival.
The R&D solution focused on identifying the sheep that manage to bend the growth curve, that is, faster growth to a lower mature body weight. The effort needs to be on genetics, ewe efficiency, mothering ability, milk production animal health and longevity (while keeping a focus on the eating quality).
A focus on increasing efficiency of the ewe flock will have huge gains, although the definition of what the actual trait or traits of ewe efficiency are will require further elucidation. R&D focus is on genetics, technology, cultivars, farm systems and animal welfare.
The R&D focus for this road block centred on technology transfer, cooperation through the chain, networks, contractual relationships, farm systems and dealing with variability.
The Ovita R&D program has focused on some aspects of these needs. But with the advances of the SNP chip it is envisaged that harder targets (for example, feed efficiency) will become obtainable. R&D that is focused on these needs will be specific to the New Zealand situation (climate, geography, genetics and farm systems).