The NZSAP Animal Science Award supported my attendance at the Joint Annual Meeting (JAM 2012) of the American Society of Animal Science, American Dairy Science Association, Canadian Society of Animal Science, Western Section of the American Society of Animal Science and Asociacion Mexicana de Produccion Animal from the 15-19 July 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. During the conference I reflected on differences and similarities between animal science in NZ and the US. I wanted to get a gauge of the understanding that American researchers have of animal science in New Zealand and to understand what the research priorities are for American animal scientists
As the conference progressed it became evident that American researchers have an appreciation of the animal science research undertaken in NZ. New Zealand’s pastoral-based production was even more highlighted in the setting of Phoenix where the arid desert-land is in stark contrast to the green pastures that NZ is known for. Our dairy industry is certainly well admired. It was encouraging to note that US researchers were aware of NZ sheep production and they considered that it had a strong focus alongside the dominant dairy sector. Beef production was noted as a main focal point of animal production in the US.
The JAM 2012 conference was huge. Each day had over 300 posters and over 300 oral presentations. There were a multitude of papers looking growth efficiency. This is a popular topic among researchers of beef production in the US. Predicted population growth and competing land use drive research priorities. American researchers use residual feed intake (RFI) as an indicator of efficiency. I questioned the usefulness of categorising animals on RFI compared to the use of Feed Conversion Efficiency (FCE) since, in the research situation; both require measures of growth rates and intake. The answer seems to lie in the fact that RFI is a better tool for genetic selection as FCE is very dependent on the values of intake and gain rather than the genotype of the animal.
So all-in-all the overall research focus seems similar – how to feed an increasing world population with limiting resources – searching for the efficiencies. The main difference is that America is more inward looking with the concern on sustaining feeding of the American peoples while in New Zealand the realisation is that we will not be feeding the masses and to remain economically sustainable requires focus is on the discerning, high-end market where product quantity is less important.
Side-note: To quench my curiosity about the farming systems in Arizona my partner and I drove out into the countryside surrounding Phoenix after the conference....thinking.... how could anything be farmed in this dryness and heat (we got temperatures above 45°C while in Phoenix). Then, lo and behold, we came across acres and acres of lucerne (alfalfa) and next thing there was feedlots with long, long sheds with water misting fans and black and white cows enjoying the shade. See photos below.