During the opening day of the 32nd Biennial Conference of the Australian Society of Animal Production held at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, the first session focused on the high levels of innovation achieved in each of the conferences’s targeted industries, and where representatives from each of those industries saw its future direction.
The general manager, research, Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), Dr Jane Littlejohn addressed the various issues which the peak wool industry body is looking at including robotic shearing, weaner ill-thrift, reducing the incidence of fly-strike and other health-related questions.
“Most of the economically important conditions are perinatal mortality, dystocia, periparturient worm and other parasite problems and breech fly-strike,” Dr Littlejohn said.
“They are our challenges.”
Some of the research AWI is doing to further the sustainability of the wool industry include DNA sampling to determine the outstanding breeding stock, genome studies, changing and editing genes and testing for the efficacy of the chemicals used during the wool production cycle.
“We are looking at reproductive technology, including sex-sorted semen from rams and looking at the cervix to work our way through cervical AI,” Dr Littlejohn said.
AWI are also focusing on the digital space including such concepts as farm connectivity, individual ear tags, we have some solar panel tags and also Artificial Intelligence and machine learning.
But Dr Littlejohn pointed out the major expenditure impacting the industry are wool harvesting and selling costs.
“These are our two main challenges that are wool specific,” she said.
“Basically shearing hasn’t changed but we are investigating ‘safe-robots’ at the moment, there are also ‘soft-robots’ that can look how shearers are working and assist that force and replace their own body images with assisted means.”
When discussing wool selling costs, Dr Littlejohn said there hasn’t been a lot of change from the 1980’s compared with the current era.
“It is hard for producers to do their marketing on their own, their brokering on their own: the transactional costs are too high,” she said.
“AWI has invested in WoolQ which is the single online destination for woolgrowers and the wool industry to access and interact with industry and offering an introduction agency between buyers and sellers.”
Dr Littlejohn said the technology has the potential of opening many avenues for woolgrowers to lift their profitability.
“Going digital on a selling platform leads us not only to blockchain technology but other forms of traceability, like country of origin for the wool industry, region of origin and farm of origin.”
Dr Littlejohn noted this technology has already been taken up by the cotton industry.
She concluded her address and pointed to the future when she said the objective measurement of wool using a digital platform will be explored.