Report Synopsis

Efficiency Gains through Improved Genetics

Robert Fleming

The global beef industry faces many challenges, for example price volatility, environmental concerns and cheaper meat protein sources. As an industry, the beef sector has lagged behind other meat sectors in technical efficiency. It has been slow to embrace change available through access to science and genetic trait data.

During the study into efficiency in the beef sector, it was important to gauge the current standing of the beef industry, both in the UK and globally, as well as evaluating the evolution of technical and financial efficiency and beef’s standing against other meat sectors.

Whilst undertaking my Nuffield Farming travels, I intended to find out where our industry was, where we have come from, and to evaluate the best route to improve profitability through utilisation of superior genetics. I selected Canada and the USA as my starting point due to their use of genetics, genomics and various methods to measure the resultant performances. Next I travelled to Ireland to see the gains the Irish have found through investment in superior AI sires and the tools they use to seek out the best bulls. I then travelled to Paraguay and Brazil to visit large scale farmers beginning to embrace genetics and AI, where I was able to see the early drivers of change and get an understanding of the benefits to the beef industry of selecting for bio-economic or profit traits.

It is my belief that a better understanding of the traits and identification thereof will be the key to improved technical and financial performance of beef cattle. If the main driver of a breeding programme is success in the show ring, that is detrimental to efficient beef production. A balance of functionality and economic trait selection must be found to drive the efficiency of beef production forward. Using the latest science-based technology, improved management practices, and embracing the need to change is important. The meat protein sector is very competitive and we must understand the potential we have to improve, and ensure the beef industry is always evolving.

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