One of the key scientists behind dairy genomic breeding values has been named Australia's best animal husbandry researcher.
Geneticist Dr Jennie Pryce, who leads world-first research into fertility, heat tolerance and Feed Saved breeding values, had the most citations for research papers published in the top 20 scientific journals in the Animal Husbandry discipline during the past five years.
Dr Pryce is a researcher with Agriculture Victoria and La Trobe University and DataGene's lead scientist.
She is one in a prestigious list of 250 leaders in disciplines from history to medicine calculated by research analytics firm League of Scholars and published in The Australian newspaper.
"It is lovely to get this acknowledgement, but it is a team effort and really it's the result of investment in the future of dairy by farmers through the DairyBio program, which is funded by Dairy Australia, Agriculture Victoria and the Gardiner Foundation," Dr Pryce said.
"Also, getting that message out about genetic improvement - through the team at DataGene - is also critical. We can do the most amazing science in the world but if the farmers don't understand how it's going to benefit them, we may as well not even bother."
Genomics uses DNA information to predict the genetic merit of bulls and cows under Australian conditions, published as Australian Breeding Values (ABVs).
Genetic improvement of dairy cows contributes to about 30 per cent of annual production gains in Australia.
Dr Pryce, whose family dairy farmed in the UK, said tangible on-farm benefits underpin her research.
"Over the years I've had so many conversations with farmers, starting with my parents, and progressing through to the many Aussie farmers I chat too," she said.
"Their thoughts and what they observe, even though they may not realise, actually help to shape the science.
"I always feel a sense of grounding when I go to a farmer-meetings, it certainly gives me a sense of what the important things are and what really matters.
"Ultimately what we are trying to do is improve farmer profitability and animal welfare."
Leading the research team that led to a new Australian Breeding Value for fertility was a career highlight for Dr Pryce.
"There's really good evidence that on average animal performance aligns to the breeding values, so that cows with a high fertility ABV are more fertile than the lower fertility breeding value cows," she said.
"It's really gratifying to see that even for a low heritability trait, like fertility. At the start of my career people thought it was a 'pipe-dream' to have breeding values to improve fertility.
"Everybody said it was controlled by management and feeding. But genetics is one of the ways we can really improve that trait."
DataGene is an initiative of Dairy Australia and the herd improvement industry
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