FIFTY nine percent of Australian commercial cattle producers are now using BreedPlan EBVs in genetics decision-making, according to results from Meat & Livestock Australia’s latest Genetics Insights Survey.
Conducted by consultants Bob Sloane and Laura Walker, this year’s survey interviewed a representative sample of 525 beef producers located across Australia, drawn from MLA’s producer database.
A key outcome was dramatic growth in the use of BreedPlan EBVs by commercial beef producers over the past seven years, growing from 18 percent in the previous survey in 2016 to 59pc today. The stud sector also increased its use of genetic tools, growing from 32pc in 2016 to 56pc this year.
Understanding the increased uptake in the use of breeding values will allow MLA to understand how progress is tracking to achieve the goal set by the NLGC to double the rate of genetic gain by 2025.
Despite the proven benefits of EBVs, some producers had chosen not to adopt them in their enterprises, the report’s authors said.
Previous research conducted by MLA in 2016 identified a number of barriers to adoption, including a lack of value proposition, lack of education resources around genetics and language that is too complex to understand.
Subsequent research by MLA in 2020 identified that MLA’s Genetics marketing campaign was successful in informing many producers of the benefits of breeding values, encouraged them to seek information and advice on genetics to help their sire purchase decisions and to use, or consider using, breeding values in their operation.
The barriers to adoption identified in that research included lack of understanding of benefits, scale of operation, lack of need, not enough information and a reliance on breeders and other selection methods.
The project set out to track the uptake of, and drivers and barriers to, genetic technology by beef producers so that MLA can better understand producers’ needs, perceptions and communication preferences and drive generic adoption in the industry.
It set out to:
- Measure the frequency and length of use of genetic technology and tools such as EBVs and BreedPlan, AI, embryo transfer, and defined breeding objectives
- Identify and quantify the reasons driving current adoption of genetic technology as well as factors that are inhibiting uptake and how these can be overcome and perceptions and attitudes towards genetic tools
- Gauge producers’ sentiment towards particular genetic tools and programs and their functionalities.
Cattle producers participating in the survey were well educated, with 50pc having a tertiary graduate or post graduate qualification. Producers were also very experienced with 50pc having been making breeding decisions for 31 years or more. The largest age segment of interviewed producers was those 65 and over (42pc), and almost all producers were 35 and over.
The majority (82pc) of cattle producers were commercial operators with the remainder seedstock cattle producers (18pc). The average number of breeding cows was 573 per farm.
Some 82pc of commercial beef producers had a defined breeding objective, and 98pc of seedstock producers.
Cattle producers tracked many measurements of genetic gains, with the top three being fertility, temperament and calving ease, regardless of seedstock or commercial system.
For commercial cattle producers, only 33pc were members of a breed society, although the majority (59pc) used BreedPlan EBVs. Overall 60pc of commercial producers in temperate regions used BreedPlan EBVs as did 51pc of tropical region producers and 60pc of producers with both temperate and tropical breeds.
Where commercial cattle producers did not use Breedplan/TACE when buying bulls, one third stated that it was because they rely on information being given to them by another party – for example the bull breeder. Most commercial BreedPlan/TACE non-users (89pc) had never used either system with 11pc being past/lapsed users. The top reason given for never using BreedPlan was that it was “not necessary/trust own process” (23pc).
Satisfaction with genetic gains
Satisfaction with genetic gains was high, with 47pc of interviewed cattle producers very satisfied with the gains they have achieved over the last ten years and 37pc fairly satisfied.
Where cattle producers were less than fully satisfied with their genetic gains, almost two thirds (57pc) said this was due to there always being room for improvement with one third citing environment factors.
Around a quarter of cattle producers (23pc) used genomic products. Among these users, the most popular products were DNA tests for parentage (69pc) and DNA tests for performance (65pc). Seedstock producers were significantly more likely to use genomic products than commercial producers.
The key factor that cattle producers understood about BreedPlan was that it is data regarding genetics, with more than one third citing this. Around one quarter also listed that BreedPlan assisted in decision making, was a database that can be used as a guide and that it provides benchmarking.
Regardless of production type, cattle producers said the best feature about BreedPlan is that it aids selection/decision making (35pc), with seedstock producers significantly more likely to cite the ability to assess traits (21pc), benchmark (20pc) and aid in marketing (13pc) compared to commercial producers who were more likely to say they did not know the best things about BreedPlan.
Accuracy tops negative BreedPlan factors
The biggest factor driving negative perceptions of BreedPlan among all cattle producers was issues with accuracy (20pc). Seedstock producers were also concerned by problems with data capture (26pc) and methodology, while commercial producers were most likely to have nothing negative to say (22pc) or be unsure (19pc).
Three key traits
Overall, for cattle producers, the three key traits considered for breeding bull selection were temperament (91pc), calving ease (80pc) and birth weight (72pc).
There were innumerable, significant differences among seedstock and commercial breeding bull selection. Over the next ten years, the great majority of both seedstock (87pc) and commercial producers (83pc) consider reproduction/fertility to be the most important factor for their business, followed by cost of production/efficiency (81pc and 84pc, respectively).
When asked how they choose a stud, commercial cattle producers most frequently cited the genetics and ‘performance’ of the stud (62pc), followed by their relationship with the breeder (57pc).
Once they have selected a stud, almost all commercial producers choose a bull based on its looks and breeding values (94pc).
Regarding their use of BreedPlan and BreedPlan EBVs, more than one third of cattle producers said they had received formal training or guidance. Seedstock producers were significantly more likely to have formal training (56pc) compared to commercial producers (32pc).
Of those bull producers who had received formal training or guidance, breed societies were the single biggest source and were used at a significantly higher rate. Commercial cattle producers were split between breed societies (28pc), the DPI (31pc) and MLA (29pc).
Where producers had not received formal training or guidance, cattle producers as a whole said they had never gotten around to it (27pc) or did not know where to go (23pc).
Producers were also asked where they would go to get further training or guidance, with MLA the top pick overall at 29pc. Seedstock producers were significantly more likely (44pc) to seek guidance from a stock agent while commercial producers were significantly more likely to say they ‘don’t know’ where to get further training.
On average, producers said they were ‘just a little’ familiar with BreedPlan (3.3/5), with seedstock producers significantly more familiar (3.9/5) than commercial producers (3.2/5). Conversely, commercial producers (4.2/5) had a mainly favourable opinion of BreedPlan while seedstock producers were more neutral (3.8/5).
Overall trust of BreedPlan was high with an average across cattle producers of 4.3/5, although seedstock cattle producer trust was slightly lower than commercial.
Where producers had a critical opinion of BreedPlan, it was largely due to concerns about the integrity of the data (53pc) and issues with the methodology (41pc). Positive opinions were driven by a sentiment of trust and scientific validity (40pc).
Getting up to speed
More producers using the latest genetic tools and insights to their advantage is good news for the continued prosperity of the red meat industry, as well as the robustness of the nation’s beef herd, MLA’s project manager for Genetics Adoption, Dr Sarita Guy said.
“Producers may be hesitant to embark on the journey of getting up to speed on the seemingly complex array of genetic tools available.”
Dr Guy encouraged producers to explore using these tools alongside their current processes used in purchasing decisions.
“Visual assessment is important, as is raw data. It’s also good to talk to the bull breeder to understand what traits they’ve been selecting for,” Dr Guy said.
“The most accurate tools to compare sires, within one stud and across different studs of the same breed, are breeding values – and we have good evidence that they work.”
The accuracy of these tools would increase over time and will encompass an increasingly wider range of traits that directly impact profitability and the sustainability of the industry.
“These tools are underpinned by accurate data and scientifically robust methods. Objective EBVs can be used hand-in-hand with visual assessment and are useful even for smaller operations.
“By using these tools, producers can capitalise on this investment and increase their herd or flock performance,” Dr Guy said.
- Click this link to access the full survey report
- Producers can receive guidance on developing a customised breeding plan and how to maximise their genetic investment by attending the revamped BredWell FedWell workshops.