The old saying, knowledge is power, couldn’t be more at home than in the midst of the current Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) wrangle.
Behind the one-way mirrors, offended journalists, proxy domination and director terms is a clash of agendas between industry heavyweights, all of whom have their own empire building at stake.
This includes not just AWI’s chairman, Wal Merriman, but Meat and Livestock Australia, MerinoSelect, Sheep Genetics, the Sheep CRC and the pollies relishing the opportunity to throw in their two-bobs worth.
While some insightful prying into AWI culture couldn’t hurt – after all, somebody along the line has to bring some accountability to the spending of levy and tax payer dollars – the mess in which AWI has found itself has many layers.
Among them is the request by AWI to access Ovis and the data it contains, why MLA and MerinoSelect are holding it so tight and what this is doing to further divide entities that really should be collaborating for the benefit of growers.
The Ovis data was generated from the Information Nucleus Flock (and later the MLA Resource Flock), from which AWI famously withdrew funding in 2012.
The whole situation, as it now stands, lacks transparency and risks being stymied by the politics.
AWI’s track record on backing science-based research has suffered in recent years. Yet here it is with its $7 million investment in the Merino Lifetime Productivity Project. This is expected to bring some extremely useful insight to sheep genetics, but much of its detail remains under wraps.
Given the range of traits to be measured in this project (see “Breeding better data”, theland.com.au August 11, 2017), the potential is there for this to produce a data set that could be a powerful tool for the industry.
Who’s in control seems to be a big part of what’s at stake. We therefore have a divided sheep industry, where trust is undermined by conflicting political aims.
The governance and culture issues clearly need to be sorted as a first step. If this can be achieved, and some transparency and trust regained, then the industry as a whole might be able to begin to progress some of these areas where growers can further benefit from their investments.
Until then, we are stuck with warring tribes who resist collaboration for risk of giving the other side an inch.