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Newsletter | October 2019
Project Call Status | Red Wagyu in Texas | Uganda extravaganza

Pointy end of WALRC business

WALRC producer members were given the responsibility to conduct the initial evaluation of the Producer Demonstration Site (PDS) project applications, submitted in this year’s round. Until now, WALRC’s project evaluation role has been limited to the major R&D project call but a decision to expand responsibilities to include consideration of the PDS applications has been well received by the Council.

A strong field of applications including 14 from WA were considered by the WALRC producer members as part of the first litmus test of ensuring appeal/relevance to local production issues; and also to consider how strongly the applications aligned to agreed extension priorities that fell out of the most recent issues workshop.

“I found the responsibility of considering these applications both rewarding and challenging,” said Audrey Bird, Wickepin - who was appointed to a producer member of WALRC earlier this year. “Producers should take heart from knowing how seriously and rigorously these applications are considered and evaluated. There is no doubt reward for effort for those who have put in the time to ensure their applications meet criteria and guidelines, particularly in the area of agreed priorities and collaboration opportunities.”

For applicants short-listed, full proposals are due to MLA by November 4, with advice expected to successful applicants in mid-December.

According to WALRC chair Tim Watts there is considerable potential for the number of applications from WA to increase again next year, particularly in the pastoral regions.
“The PDS process is a powerful means of ground-truthing the outcomes of both new and old research in a local environment and under local management systems.”

The next call for PDS applications will be made in April 2020, with a similar set of guidelines to the 2019 call expected (see here by way of example).

“It is worth remembering that applicants that can genuinely show there is local benefit in testing research on-ground, coupled with those who have made the effort to collaborate and to ensure their application fits guidelines, rather than adjusting what they really want to do just to get the funding, will quickly rise to the top of the field,” Tim said.

R&D call project evaluation

The full WALRC producer council will meet on November 28 to consider 112 preliminary proposals (75 of which are relevant to WALRC) received under the latest MLA levy investment call for RD&A projects.   Similar to the PDS applications, the projects will in their first instance be considered against the agreed producer priorities that fed through the WALRC issues forums over the previous six months and assessed through a producer lens for relevance and priority to the WA livestock sector.

According to WALRC chair Tim Watts, WALRC had a facilitating role in several of the project applications with a strong focus on cross-institution collaboration.  “We were particularly proud to endorse a 4-institution submission that went in under the call for Expressions of Interest to participate in a sheep reproduction strategic partnership - a process that highlighted to me the excellent and complimentary skill set we have across our institutional WALRC partners - UWA, Murdoch, DPIRD and CSIRO,” Tim said.

“It is not easy to combine the objectives and culture of each institution into a single application.  To have achieved this is a great credit to them which will ultimately benefit the industry as a whole with more efficient R&D and bigger outcomes.”

Meanwhile in direct response to WALRC 2019 priorities, MLA has put out to open tender a technical review of maternal dystocia (nutritional and non-nutritional factors). The purpose of the review is to identify the prevalence, knowledge gaps and researcher recommendations to investigate potential mitigation options to improve lamb and dam survival outcomes. The full proposal template is available here and applications close November 15.

 “The decision to fast-track this review has had our full endorsement as the findings will be critical to inform the sheep reproduction strategic partnership that will fall out of the investment call,” Tim said.

Wagyu opportunity uncovered

WALRC member Alan Peggs has just returned from a study tour of Texas to get a better understanding of the opportunities for Red Wagyu (Akuashi) cattle in the WA market-place. His visit was spurred on by claims of significant Asian demand for first cross Akuashi cattle - and that the supply is nowhere close to being met by US producers.
WALRC asked Alan what he considered to be the three ‘stand out’ points from his Akuashi study and his response was:
  1. The breed’s ability to substantially enhance the carcass attributes of any breed in an F1 cross (and the fact it works particularly well over a Brahman);
  2. The breed’s adaptability to both harsh and benign environmental conditions; and
  3. The potential demand for grainfed Akuashi beef from WA into South East Asia and the Middle East as well as a growing inquiry for a grass-fed version of the product.
Read the full story in Alan’s newsletter here.

Study tour of a different kind

WALRC executive officer Esther Jones has just returned from Uganda. Apart from wild tales of being charged by a silverback Mountain Gorilla (true) and unique opportunities to spend time with the rare and endangered Golden Monkeys and of course Africa’s Big 5, it was Uganda’s many stories of agriculture that deserve a mention in this newsletter. 

In particular Esther was fascinated by the precious Long-horn cattle, whose currency even today still sits with ‘bride price’ - where the value is closely linked to the style and length of the horn and the richness of the coat colour. A bride price can range anywhere between 3 and 6 Longhorn cattle. Anyone with more than six Longhorns is considered a pastoralist and many are now crossing with Friesian bulls to up the milk production.  

Take a scroll through the Instagram posts (link below) to catch a few shots of the Longhorn cattle. They were particularly difficult to photograph as the herd boys think anyone with a camera taking photos of their cattle is planning on rustling them.

Just one of the many challenges to running cattle in Uganda is the lack of fences and the need to protect cattle from lion predation; grazing pastures from the Zebra and Antelope and cattle rustling from young men desperate for an extra cow to secure his bride price! 

Another production challenge is the fact that there is not a milking machine in site - so all milking is done by hand.  Plenty of labour though - 45 million people in Uganda in a country the size of Victoria! See Esther’s holiday spam at https://www.instagram.com/esther.price.39/?hl=en . Click on the individual images to see the series and the accompanying commentary. 

A roundup of Spring forums

WALRC has been busy visiting a number of grower and NRM groups around the state in the past few weeks (almost as interesting as Texas and Uganda!) to talk about the issues limiting their on-farm productivity.

The ASheep Spring field day at Esperance is a bus tour which visits on farm trial sites and paddocks of interest to the group.  This year’s bus was hosted by WALRC and we had a rolling forum session for the best part of the day over the PA systems in the bus.  Topics discussed were very broad and included the transition to non-mulesing,  autumn feed gap and farming systems which work at scale.  A number of issues were raised which will go into our prioritisation process.

We also spent time recently with the Goldfields-Nullabor Regional Biosecurity Association (GNRBA) thanks to our former chair Erin Gorter who works with them.  Our forum discussed a range of issues from impacts of drought, economics of feeding systems and bull fertility.

Tim, wearing his “Dr Tim” hat, was particularly pleased that the group had high awareness and knowledge of bull penile dysfunction, as this requires acute observation skills in extensive rangelands.  

“Bull penile dysfunction is an issue we’ve been following for a while now and this feedback has added considerably to our collective understanding of this problem which we will feed back to MLA,” Tim said.

WALRC has also participated at forums in Darkan, Busselton, Moora and Muresk in the past few months with more forums in Autumn 2020 scheduled (March 24, 25 and 26). Watch this space for the program details and places.
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