“Adapt or be disrupted. In the sheep industry we have to think ‘how are we going to adapt to the change’.”
These are the words of Mark Ferguson, managing director of neXtgen Agri Ltd, when he spoke to LambEx delegates stressing the importance for sheep producers to rethink the way they breed sheep.
“Sheep breeders will need to be more flexible than ever before,” Mr Ferguson said.
“To prosper in this new world, we need to rethink the way we breed our sheep.”
Mr Ferguson told delegates there were three key adaptations when building the future ewe.
One was to get seriously consumer focussed.
“Get to know your consumer – they are the key to our future, we need to understand their drivers,” he said.
“It is no longer good enough to produce what is best for us and expect someone to buy it. We have to build trust with that consumer set and breeding is a part of that future.”
Mr Ferguson said our production system used to be driven around product, taste and convenience.
But there are new drivers, and according to Mr Ferguson the affluent consumer’s mind set is going to be on health, wellness, social impact, safety and experience.
“The $10 per kilogram lamb comes with those evolving drivers, so we need to nail those evolving drivers with our breeding,” he said.
“We have to guarantee that we have that eating experience for our consumer set. Therefore putting intramuscular fat in our future ewe is a definite tick.”
We also need to have a production system that our consumers can be proud of, he said.
“When they are eating our products we want them to be proud of where they came from and how they were produced,” he said.
“They are proud not only of the productivity, but our system. A system where we are not using chemicals and we are not using intervention.”
The second adaptor was to get focused on cost, time and chemicals in our breeding programs.
“We need to think about breeding in terms of less – how do we take costs out, how do we take chemicals out and how do we take time out,” Mr Ferguson said.
According to MLA’s costing reports the top five costs are all under some form of genetic control such as lamb mortality, internal parasites, and fly strike.
“These are all things that we can select for to improve,” Mr Ferguson said.
“We have to think about how we breed a future ewe that requires less time, less chemicals and less costs. If we could breed a sheep that requires less grain feeding, that would have a huge impact on enterprises”
The third adaptor according to Mr Ferguson is embracing data.
“Augmented breeding decisions are part of our very near future,” Mr Ferguson said.
“Having information at our fingertips through data is going to continue going forward.
“We simply have not had the ability to accurately map both the inputs and outputs of individual sheep to determine which are indeed most profitable in a commercial setting.
“We are now entering an era where we will have this information.”
Mr Ferguson said technology is about to deliver us an ocean of new information about our sheep. For the first time in history we will truly know which ones are most profitable.
“We will also know which ones will maintain the highest welfare standards,” Mr Ferguson said.
He concluded by saying the ewe of the future is in the hands of the people that choose to breed her, and standing still is going backwards, at an ever increasing rate.