Mike Lohuis talks to Gentec

You haven’t been with Semex very long, but what is your role as Vice President, Research and Innovation likely to entail?

“It’s very exciting! This is the first time Semex has had an executive level position focused solely on research and innovation, so it brings new focus on the R&D aspects of our business. It’s important because the industry is changing very quickly, and we need to focus on the technology that’s likely to shape the industry’s future—as developed by in-house and academic partners.”

So what has genomics led to?

“Genomic selection and advanced reproductive technologies have substantially transformed the industry. When I left Canada in 1998, multiple ovulation transfer was already being used to increase the reproductive capacity of elite females. But there was no way to distinguish between full siblings in genetic potential which limited the value of this technology. Since then, it has been interesting to watch as the science around genomic selection evolved to solve that problem and become a reality in the dairy industry.

Simultaneously, ovum pick-up (OPU) and in-vitro fertilization (IVF) technologies became a more effective tool to rapidly produce large numbers of offspring from the most elite young females.

If you consider the rate of genetic gain, increasing selection accuracy, selection intensity and genetic variation help increase the genetic improvement per generation. By reducing the generation interval (the time required to replace parents with their progeny), one can increase the genetic improvement delivered per year. By combining OPU/IVF with genomic selection, we’ve been able to increase selection accuracy of females because of genomic information. With males, we’ve given up some accuracy for speed by decreasing the generational interval. The intensity of selection has also increased because, instead of buying young bulls, collecting semen and creating progeny, which is very expensive, you can simply collect a hair sample, extract the DNA and test it in the lab. This also means that yearling bulls can now be used confidently as mating sires, which has significantly reduced the generation interval. Genetic variation doesn’t change quickly, but we are carefully monitoring the impact of these technologies on levels of inbreeding and genetic variation in the breeding population. At this point, we’ve almost doubled the rate of genetic improvement with the combined use of genomic selection and advanced reproductive technologies.”

 

Genomics doesn’t happen in vacuum. What changes have taken place around it?

“Technological leaps can cause disruptions in the marketplace and often lead to consolidation. You always have early adopters and those that are more risk-averse. In this case, some groups caught on to genomic selection and advanced reproductive technologies early and have done well by it. The marketplace itself can be another disruptor. Retail powerhouse Wal-Mart has continually put pressure on food prices, and now Amazon wants to sell food as well. Large retailers have demanded lower production costs, and producers have had to accept less for their products because there are always farms learning how to do it more cheaply.”

 

And as a result?

“We have significantly commoditized farm products. In some ways, it’s good as it drives down food costs but the return to individual producers has shrunk. So farm size has to go up for producers to make a living. We now have fewer, larger farms that don’t need as many companies servicing them. They prefer one supplier to service more of their needs. In response, we see some companies diversifying and others just getting bigger.”

Can we blame globalization?

“Global trade and the internet makes it easy to sell globally and provide for farmers around the world. Frozen semen is already very transportable, and the larger producers do their own insemination instead of bringing in a technician. If they have their own semen tank on the farm, anybody can deliver semen to that tank. It provides great selection to choose from but there isn’t the same loyalty to the local semen provider.

What role do you think Gentec plays in the industry?

“I got to know Graham Plastow in about 2005 when he was responsible for research at PIC. I always respected his approach and how he worked with multiple academic partners. He would encourage academic partners to develop their research in a way that industry could use and, if they were successful, increase the investment in them. It’s a nice model for generating useful research because you never know where the best innovations will come from.

We take it for granted that academics know what we need. Gentec seems to bring all the parties together. It does a nice job of creating a flow of information both ways.”

A big Thank You to Mike Lohuis for this in-depth interview. Click here to enjoy Part 1 again.

The Path to New Zealand

At our 2017 Livestock Gentec conference William Torres of Cattleland Feedyards focused on Pursuing Evidence-based Outcomes in the Beef Industry. The obstacles can be many… and varied… and driven by producer and end-user perceptions. Often, adopting best evidence-based practices is slowed by not knowing what these best practices are and how to apply them, or by a lack of coordination as to how to share their implementation, costs, and benefits across the various links in the supply chain. Just as often, however, difficulties arise due to nostalgia on the part of the producer aiming to preserve tradition and operate the ranch like “Grandpa” did, and on the part of the consumer seeking “natural” food free of many of today’s productivity-improving technologies that are necessary for the producer to remain in business.

However, several forces are converging to spur change. Environmental pressures and an increasing desire to ensure sustainable production are opening the door slightly and allowing scientific advances to pass through, as is the need to farm in the most efficient manner to ensure that nutritious food is also affordable food.

Stepping back from the idea that industry integration is a requirement, William focused instead on coordination, outlining some of the conditions that facilitate the use of genomics technologies with respect to sorting and managing animals at the feedlot level, and on areas where there is consensus on the social and economic benefit of pursuing change. These areas include the use of pain management tools for castration and de-horning procedures and the appropriate use of antibiotics to ensure animal welfare while preventing the development of antimicrobial resistance. When used as part of a disciplined pre-conditioning protocol, these measures help industry address animal welfare concerns and help optimize producer efforts and profitability.

Although not completely reflected in the edited version, William also spoke of the need to engage with those who disagree with you or don’t necessarily think like you, if only because they are often your customer. At its very worst, evidence allows us as an industry to do what society expects of us (even when society is ill-informed or we don’t agree with the direction of change) in a manner that imposes the least burden on us as producers. On more moderate ground, evidence also allows us as an industry to defend practices that are poorly understood, such as making the case that the use of medications in treating sick animals is the humane thing to do. At their best, evidence-based practices allow producers to make informed decisions on how to collaborate within the system to deliver the best possible beef in the most efficient and sustainable manner.

That said (and as an editor’s aside), there are also instances when the public shines a light on an industry practice that, while historic in precedent, is hard to justify today. Two practices often mentioned in the lay press are dehorning and branding. Industry is responding through the use of pain control medication in dehorning procedures and the use of genomics to select for homozygous polled bulls. Genomics also has the potential to supplant branding through the combination of the existing animal ID practices with DNA-based traceability markers. To view a summary of William’s talk, please click here.

Pursuing Evidence-based Outcomes in the Beef Industry

At our 2017 Livestock Gentec conference William Torres of Cattleland Feedyards focused on Pursuing Evidence-based Outcomes in the Beef Industry. The obstacles can be many… and varied… and driven by producer and end-user perceptions. Often, adopting best evidence-based practices is slowed by not knowing what these best practices are and how to apply them, or by a lack of coordination as to how to share their implementation, costs, and benefits across the various links in the supply chain. Just as often, however, difficulties arise due to nostalgia on the part of the producer aiming to preserve tradition and operate the ranch like “Grandpa” did, and on the part of the consumer seeking “natural” food free of many of today’s productivity-improving technologies that are necessary for the producer to remain in business.

However, several forces are converging to spur change. Environmental pressures and an increasing desire to ensure sustainable production are opening the door slightly and allowing scientific advances to pass through, as is the need to farm in the most efficient manner to ensure that nutritious food is also affordable food.

Stepping back from the idea that industry integration is a requirement, William focused instead on coordination, outlining some of the conditions that facilitate the use of genomics technologies with respect to sorting and managing animals at the feedlot level, and on areas where there is consensus on the social and economic benefit of pursuing change. These areas include the use of pain management tools for castration and de-horning procedures and the appropriate use of antibiotics to ensure animal welfare while preventing the development of antimicrobial resistance. When used as part of a disciplined pre-conditioning protocol, these measures help industry address animal welfare concerns and help optimize producer efforts and profitability.

Although not completely reflected in the edited version, William also spoke of the need to engage with those who disagree with you or don’t necessarily think like you, if only because they are often your customer. At its very worst, evidence allows us as an industry to do what society expects of us (even when society is ill-informed or we don’t agree with the direction of change) in a manner that imposes the least burden on us as producers. On more moderate ground, evidence also allows us as an industry to defend practices that are poorly understood, such as making the case that the use of medications in treating sick animals is the humane thing to do. At their best, evidence-based practices allow producers to make informed decisions on how to collaborate within the system to deliver the best possible beef in the most efficient and sustainable manner.

That said (and as an editor’s aside), there are also instances when the public shines a light on an industry practice that, while historic in precedent, is hard to justify today. Two practices often mentioned in the lay press are dehorning and branding. Industry is responding through the use of pain control medication in dehorning procedures and the use of genomics to select for homozygous polled bulls. Genomics also has the potential to supplant branding through the combination of the existing animal ID practices with DNA-based traceability markers. To view a summary of William’s talk, please click here.