Research Group Collaborates for Industry Improvement
By AMY TRINIDAD
Sheep Industry News Editor
(Aug. 1, 2013) “Two heads are better than one” is a popular statement and one that holds merit with an informational exchange group made up of sheep industry researchers and extension personnel that meets yearly called the North Central Extension, Research and Academic Coordinating Committee (NCERA-214). The group’s most recent meeting took place in June on the campus of Utah State University in Logan, Utah, with a focus on improving efficiency of sheep production. Although there are a few research-based groups that concentrate on sheep production, what makes NCERA-214 unique is its scope of work focusing on genetics, nutrition, reproduction, carcass and meat quality and milk production in wool and hair sheep. One of the major outcomes of this meeting is the sharing of experience, information and experimental results by researchers in these areas.
“Our members are very diverse in their interests and skills, but share a common goal of increasing profitability for sheep producers,” explains Kreg Leymaster, Ph.D., U.S. Meat Animal Research Center of Clay Center, Neb. “We benefit from learning from those people that are trained in other areas. The ultimate outcome is that we do better research.”
The group was formed in 1971 in Kentucky and through the past 40 years has worked to align their research priorities with the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). As stated in their project objectives, their research goal is to develop integrated food-animal management and animal health systems that support efficient, competitive and sustainable production of safe and wholesome food consistent with animal and environmental well-being. Although the group’s intent to conduct research to increase production efficiencies in the industry has remained consistent, the researchers’ role in the industry has transformed to include more outreach to producers.
“I see this group today more in tune with what producers are doing in the field,” says Don Ely, Ph.D., with the University of Kentucky, further explaining that in the infancy of the NCERA-214 there were more extension personnel involved communicating research results to producers. “Now, as researchers, I think it is our responsibility to be on the research end of a project and take what we learn to producers.”
Leymaster agrees explaining that a lot of the group’s members now have broader responsibilities. “Because there are fewer of us, we have more hats that we are wearing. Those of us that thought we were initially trained to do research, now find ourselves with additional responsibilities.”
And when communicating their sheep production messages, Ely says that building a reputation with producers is key.
“It’s a matter of having credibility with people and having them trust you,” says Leymaster, explaining that there are a number of ways to interact with stakeholders. He finds that working with a producer one-on-one is the most effective way.
This group of researchers would like to harness that relationship to help sheep producers become more profitable. “Our role in this is to help provide some technology that makes sheep production more profitable and sustainable for producers. If we can get that transferred to producers, that provides an opportunity for the industry to grow,” relays Leymaster.
Listing some research topics that have come out of this group, such as parasite, OPP and scrapie resistance, Ely says, “I firmly believe some of the changes in the industry have been based on the research that has been done within this group over the years.”
Although the impact this group has had on the U.S. sheep industry may not “hit ya in the face,” as Ely puts it, he believes results from their work has migrated into the industry.
Another example of work that has come out of this group is the use of the controlled internal drug releasing device (CIDR) in out-of-season breeding. “We look to share research ideas and results intended to solve industry problems,” says Jeff Held, Ph.D., South Dakota State University sheep specialist and 2012-2013 chair of the group. He relays that collaboration among researchers and extension personnel is a key element that comes into the function of the group.
“I think we have responded to industry challenges as they have come up over time,” explains Leymaster. He cited the research that was conducted involving ethanol byproducts for feed in a time when traditional feed sources are high and the research done in synchronization to facilitate breeding seasons and artificial insemination. However, Leymaster further went on to say, “But there are always new opportunities to improve and I think that is what our role is.”
Both Leymaster and Ely say communication between researchers and producers is an area that can be improved upon.
“Some of us may say the transfer of technology has been far slower than we would like to see, but at the same time, we need to be able to put experimental results into dollars and cents for the producers, so they realize the monetary potential for them. If we don’t express it in terms that are important to them, we can’t expect them to do something for the sake of change,” Leymaster says.
“It is exciting that the researchers value producer input and want producers to know that they are indeed coordinating their efforts for the good of the sheep industry,” explains Paul Rodgers, ASI deputy director of policy. He says that upon invitation, ASI has been meeting with this coordinating committee, in addition to other industry research groups such as the WERA-39 (Western Extension, Research and Academic Coordinating Committee) for close to 30 years. “Nearly all of the scientific advances that have been discovered in the United States over the past 40 years have been discussed in these coordinating committee meetings while the research was in progress with benefits to both the public and private sectors in terms of efficiencies and quality. We are fortunate that USDA has a research coordinating system that provides for linkages like the NCERA-214.”
Although the research that is discussed at these annual meetings is proprietary in nature – at least for the time being – the proceedings are shared with USDA. The ultimate goal is the coordination of collaborative efforts between researchers to in turn be more effect with the limited sheep resources to address relevant industry constraints.
“This is a stand-up group,” relays Held. “They are dedicated to providing the industry with solid scientific research projects. I have been involved with the group since 1986, although the faces change, the bottom line stays the same – they care about the industry.”