1000minds clarifies sheep and plant breeding objectives

AbacusBio Breeder, Summer 2010/2011

Decision making software 1000minds is proving a powerful tool in AbacusBio projects.

The internet-based software was developed by Otago University economist Paul Hansen and computer programmer Franz Ombler to prioritize patients on hospital waiting lists and it is widely used in the New Zealand health system.

The programme helps in decision-making by asking a series of questions to rank alternatives. Using the software, complex decisions weighing up all the alternatives can be reached quickly and effectively. AbacusBio consultants Tim Byrne, Peter Fennessy and Kevin Smith are all users of 1000minds.

For Tim Byrne, 1000minds software helped him understand what traits Irish sheep farmers want in their breeding programmes.

“The power of 1000minds is that farmers can use it to reveal otherwise hidden factors that have a significant impact on profit and they can then focus selection more on these traits.” Tim has been working with geneticists to develop a sheep breeding program for Sheep Ireland.

“The idea was to use state of the art survey techniques to establish whether bio-economic breeding indexes for sheep represented what farmers actually wanted,” says Tim.

“Our bio-economic model was based on a payment schedule for carcass fat and conformation published by the meat processors. However, the reality is that procurement issues often override payment schedules related to carcass quality and therefore farmers tend to be paid on the basis of carcass weight only.”

The 1000minds analysis indicated that there is a lack of farmer interest in genetic improvement of carcass traits. This is not surprising given the basis on which farmers are actually paid.

“The carcass genetic index needs to be tied into what farmers are being paid for, or vice versa, to incentivise genetic improvement,” says Tim. “At the moment, flat pricing systems might meet short-term procurement needs but they will inhibit long-term genetic progress.”

Peter Fennessy and Kevin Smith have used the 1000minds software in a project for Australian R&D investors. They surveyed plant experts to determine how they viewed the relative importance of a range of plant traits such as persistence, yield, quality and disease resistance as selection criteria for the improvement of perennial grasses and legumes in Australia.

Kevin Smith was very pleased with the outcome and the way that the 1000minds software produced the information.

“The most important thing was to get the questions right in the first place, but overall the results probably were not surprising. We were also able to compare the responses of plant breeders with those of non-breeders. Interestingly, apart from breeders understandable interest in seed yield, the two groups had similar priorities.”

The AbacusBio team will now go on and use 1000minds to assess the relative financial importance of various factors when a farmer is considering re-sowing options.