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Selner: ‘10 questions‘ regarding changes for U.S. dairy genetic evaluations


As the dairy breeding industry works on moving genetic evaluation calculations from USDA to the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding, Dr. David Selner, HolsteinWorld genetics editor, posed 10 questions to Dr. Steve Kappes, a key USDA official responsible for the transition.

Selner: The industry is restructuring the processes used for data collection, breeding calculations and dissemination of the official U.S. genetic evaluations. Explain the role of the USDA-AIPL staff in research vs. the service functions of the current system.

Kappes: AIPL will no longer handle the service function of the genetic evaluations program; this will allow more time for AIPL scientists to develop additional methodology and technology to improve the national genetic selection program.


Selner: Is the calculation of genetic evaluations for the entire U.S. population of dairy males and females a research function or a service function? Will the AIPL staff calculate all evaluations or will the new administrative group do the calculations using AIPL researched formulas?

Kappes: The calculation of genetic evaluations for the entire U.S. dairy population is considered a service function by ARS. The new administrative group will determine the calculations and methodologies used for estimates of genetic merit. 


Selner: The AIPL staff has done an excellent job of providing genetic services for the dairy industry. In a new system will the staff be limited to doing more cutting edge research, or will they be available to help the new entity with genetic service questions?

Kappes: The intent of this transition is for AIPL to concentrate their time and effort on research. However, ARS recognizes there will be an initial need to train dairy industry staff and there will be an ongoing need to have strong interactions with the industry in transferring new methodology and technology. Questions and suggestions from the industry often are the stimulus for research to improve the system. 


Selner: Is it possible and appropriate for the AIPL staff to continue to calculate genetic evaluations if they are being paid by the industry to perform this service?

Kappes: This type of relationship between an industry group and ARS scientists is considered contract for services, and it is difficult to justify why we need the laboratory if we are working for an industry group. It is important for the ARS program to focus on its primary mission, namely research, to have the greatest impact for the U.S. dairy industry.


Selner: Is there a definite deadline when all of these changes have to be implemented, or is there some leeway for transition?

Kappes: There is no set date for the transition to occur, but it is desirable the transition happens soon, since the industry needs to have a system in place by the time genomic evaluation of bulls is open to everyone next April. It is important to the dairy industry that AIPL maintains a very strong research program to keep developing new technologies and programs that will improve the national dairy genetics selection program.

ARS feels it is more important to develop a research agreement with an industry organization that has broad support from the producers and numerous organizations that contributes to the dairy genetic selection program, than setting a definite timeline to develop the agreement.  


Selner: At the October 2011 meeting of the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) a statement was made about having full disclosure of a financial plan for funding of an alternative system before an agreement between USDA and CDCB would be signed. Is that still the plan? 

Kappes: It is not within ARS’ responsibility or authority to set the requirements for the dairy industry for the development of a business plan. However, ARS will continue to encourage a transparent process that provides the opportunity for input from all relevant industry groups and individuals for the development of a plan with broad-based support from the dairy industry. 


Selner: After the various agreements and financial plans have been widely published for review, how long is a suitable time for public comments before any actions are taken? 

Kappes: (That) should be determined by the groups representing the dairy industry.  

Selner: Is there a guarantee in the new agreement that all of the information publicly available from the AIPL website now will be publicly available in the future with the new private alliance system?

Kappes: Reports on genetic trend data, inbreeding data and annual reports of industry data like production statistics, and breed averages have been valuable to the industry so are expected to be continued as a cooperative venture where AIPL monitors the reports and develops new ones, as needed, and the industry personnel run the reports and maintain the web site that delivers them. The availability of individual animal genetic evaluations will be determined by the dairy industry based upon their business plan. One of the concerns from many in the dairy industry is the continued funding of data collection, quality control and evaluation. The dairy genetic evaluation program is not sustainable without continued and complete access to new phenotypic, genotypic, and ancestry data.  


Selner: If the AIPL staff time is not being utilized as much for the calculation of genetic evaluations they will have more time for doing other dairy genetic research. Will AIPL utilize an advisory committee of active U.S. dairy producers to help prioritize potential research projects? 

Kappes: The purpose of this transition is to concentrate AIPL scientists’ efforts on research. ARS currently has several mechanisms to obtain stakeholder (U.S. dairy producers) input that we will continue to use. ARS is amendable to the development of specific research activities and priorities for AIPL as needed.


Selner: Any other comments you would like to make from the USDA perspective?

Kappes: ARS is very pleased to have developed the technology to use genomic information in the national dairy genetic evaluation program and is also pleased with the rapid adaptation by the dairy industry. ARS recognizes that it is difficult to develop a new business plan and a collaborative research agreement with ARS with the diverse groups representing different segments of the U.S. dairy industry. ARS is looking forward to continuing our very productive relationship with the U.S. dairy industry for many years to come.



Read also:

Genetic evaluations at a crossroads


CDCB Business Plan Summary