Leading cattle geneticist rewarded with top job

Cattle geneticist Ben Hayes appointed to QAAFI

Beef
Professor Ben Hayes will in July become the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation's centre director for animal science.

Professor Ben Hayes will in July become the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation's centre director for animal science.

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Cattle geneticist Professor Ben Hayes has been appointed to a key leadership role with the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, a University of Queensland research institution.

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Cattle geneticist Professor Ben Hayes has been appointed to a key leadership role with the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, a University of Queensland research institution.

Professor Hayes, co-inventor of Genomic Selection technology, will take up the role of centre director for animal science from late July when current director Steve Moore retires.

Named last year as one of the most influential agricultural researchers in the world, Professor Hayes is a co-inventor of genomic prediction, established the 1000 Bull Genomes Project and is the leader of the Northern Beef Genomics Project, which is working with 50 collaborators across Northern Australia. The project, which will run for three more years, aims to develop a DNA test to predict the value of an animal's genetics for fertility.

He also led the Dairy Futures CRC's animal improvement project. Under Professor Hayes' leadership the Dairy Futures CRC developed and implemented a genomic breeding value for feed efficiency, which has been widely adopted.

Professor Hayes said he was excited by the opportunity to work with industry and key stakeholders to support Australia's livestock industries to build a sustainable long-term future.

"The northern beef industry has had it tough, impacted by extended drought conditions and then major flooding earlier this year," he said.

"As devastating as these events have been, there will be an opportunity to re-build the herd using genetic technologies to improve fertility, product quality and productivity."

Since joining QAAFI in 2016, Professor Hayes' focus has been on large scale projects to implement genomic technologies in livestock industries, which he says promise to deliver sustainability and productivity gains that might otherwise have taken centuries with traditional selection.

"I think people that run large commercial operations can be quite time poor and it's up to us to make it easier to use genomics," he said.

"In the past it has been complex and we really need to make it simpler."

Professor Hayes said he could see big opportunities in taking genomic approaches in looking at disease control.

"We have great people in the centre that work in the disease area and I would like to team that with my genomics experience," he said.

"It's about asking 'can we use genomic selection to reduce the incidence of certain diseases?'"

Professor Hayes believes the potential improvements in animal fertility, meat quality and disease and parasite resistance in the northern beef herd, which accounts for around 70pc of all Australian beef, are enormous.

"Improvements to meat quality in particular, measured by tenderness and intramuscular fat, will allow more northern producers greater access to that high-value end of the Asian market," he said.

But it's not just beef in his sights, with Professor Hayes saying there were also great opportunities to use genomics to enhance Queensland's other livestock industries.

"Pigs and poultry are actually Queensland's fastest growing livestock industries," he said.

QAAFI director Robert Henry said Professor Hayes was internationally known as an animal genetics innovator.

"I congratulate Professor Hayes on this appointment, which I am confident will continue the strong leadership in animal science in Queensland," he said.

"Steve has made great contributions to QAAFI and the establishment and growth of the Animal Science Centre since he joined QAAFI in September 2011.

"The centre's capacity to deliver research of real benefit to Australian and international livestock industries continues to grow."

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