THE ability to compare traits across breeds in beef may not necessarily change breeding decisions made by commercial producers nor deliver waves of genetic gain.
Further, the logistical difficulty of achieving accurate comparisons would mean diverting precious beef genetics research dollars away from more promising work.
That’s the word from breed society leaders in the wake of calls to move towards multi-breed EBVs (estimated breeding values) as soon as the end of next year.
While adamant they are open to the concept of single species analysis, breed societies argue the ability to facilitate it might not yet be there.
Beef advisors also say it would be difficult to make happen.
Seedstock producers say at the moment Australia is better of pursuing effective international genetic benchmarking.
NSW consultant Bill Hoffman, whose client list includes some of the country’s most experienced crossbreeders, said this was something that had been talked about for 20 years or more.
“If you are, for example, designing a crossbreeding system and you want to compare across breeds for certain traits, multi-breed EBVs would be a way to do it and that is not available in beef,” he said.
“It would be difficult to assess the value they would add because of the sheer scale involved in the science to separate the genetic effects from the environmental and hybrid vigour effect.
“Yes, there could be benefits if you are crossbreeding but how much could be added over what can already come from hybrid vigour, environmental adaptability and the combination of desirable attributes as a result of selection?
“What we don’t know is what it might give over and above - it might not actually add up to a lot.”
At Angus Australia, multi-breed analysis is not seen as a high priority relative to other research and development needs.
Chief executive officer Peter Parnell said Angus Breedplan already included a multi-breed component with the calculation of EBVs for Angus-influenced crossbred and composite animals.
“This relies on having a network of genetic links among animals included in the analysis,” he said.
“The lack of genetic links between different breeds, almost by definition, will make broad-scale across-breed evaluation very difficult or impossible to achieve without substantial investment in research to benchmark breed differences and quantify heterosis (hybrid vigour) for inclusion in the analysis.
“This research would take many years to complete and would absorb much of the available genetics R&D budget.”
Angus Australia believes that research effort may be better directed at improving the existing genetic evaluation model and more rapid incorporation of genomics and related technology.
Even in commercial crossbreeding programs, animal selection decisions were usually made on a within-breed basis, he said.
“The combination of breed attributes in a structured crossbreeding program is a proven way to enhance profitability,” Mr Parnell said.
“However, this does not necessarily require the ability to directly compare genetics across breeds, but rather to select the most suitable animals within each component breed included in the crossbreeding program.”
Irrespective of what breed you look at, Australia is a relatively small proportion of the global gene pool, he pointed out.
“Consequently, to maximise genetic progress in our beef populations it is arguably more important that we achieve effective international genetic benchmarking rather than diverting our energy and investment into within-country across-breed evaluation,” Mr Parnell said.
“Even if across-breed genetic evaluation options were available at some point in the future, Angus breeders would need to decide if it is more important to compare their genetics with other breeds within Australia, or to continue to benchmark against the global Angus gene pool.
“Our market research indicates that most breeders view the latter as far more important for driving future genetic improvement and for pursuing future export opportunities for Australian Angus genetics.”
Breed development and business manager for Limousins Jonathan Farris said it would be a win if commercial cattle people could make a more informed decision and better select genetics to specifically target certain traits and therefore certain markets.
But the other side of the coin was the question of whether we could confidently compare, he said.
If the technology was available for multi-breed analysis, Limousins “definately wouldn’t say no”, he said.
Wagyu breeders actually see it as a “logical development” and a way to promote the benefits of their genetics.
Australian Wagyu Association chief executive officer Matt McDonagh said Wagyu had a huge opportunity to add significant value to the whole of Australian beef industry through a transformational change in eating quality across the national herd and in substantially lifting fertility in the north.
“These two issues are the major ones affecting profitability and productivity across the national herd,” he said.
“Many industry commentators have presented the case for the need for the Australian industry to focus on production of quality beef and not lowest cost of production for commodity beef.
“Wagyu genetics are the best-bet to significantly lift quality across the national herd and sure up the long-term differentiation of Australian beef based on quality within an ever-competitive international marketplace.”