July 2020

A message from the Chair: July 2020

Welcome to this edition of the APRIL Newsletter.

I would like to update everyone in relation to some issues arising from APRIL Board meetings held in April and June.

At the Board meeting held in April, the Board accepted a majority of the recommendations from the Research and Development (R&D) Advisory Committee for funding of Industry Priority and Transformational Projects – but not all of them. There were a number of issues arising that the Board felt it had to disagree with concerning the recommendations. Broadly, these fell into a couple of categories. First, there were concerns about some projects where joint funding with Australian Pork Limited was contemplated but not agreed upon, and second, a few projects fell into a category of essentially “product testing” where the Board felt APRIL investment was not warranted or of marginal value.

The APRIL Board never intends becoming a “rubber stamp” to the recommendations of the R&D Advisory Committee, but nor do we want to routinely reject projects that have already had so much work put into them. Besides the obvious work of the researchers/research teams in writing up significant proposals, APRIL is privileged to have a very willing group of reviewers. Some projects have had as many as 10 scientific reviews before reaching the R&D Advisory Committee Subcommittee, then the full R&D Advisory Committee, and then the Board, and yet the Board has not felt confident to invest in them. Why is this happening?

The Board decided on three actions to try and make the process smoother in the future. These are:

  • Undertake a review of the APRIL processes associated with the submission of research projects. We have now completed this internal review and at its June meeting, the Board has asked the CEO to introduce a preliminary research proposal (if applicable) to provide an opportunity for feedback before researchers or reviewers have put in many hours of effort; we have also decided to discontinue the R&D Advisory Committee Subcommittee. We felt this step would empower the full R&D Advisory Committee and eliminate “double handling” of the applications;
  • Greater coordination between APRIL and APL. Margo Andrae, John Pluske and I will look at how we might achieve tighter coordination of projects where APRIL and APL have a common interest. A number of issues arose in the Industry Priority and Transformational Project applications including possible duplication of past or current work; differing views on the relative importance to industry (both where proposals to the APRIL Board were deemed to be making a relatively simple issue into a significant and costly one, and where only a small project was addressing an issue that warrants a whole program of coordinated investment); and on budget approaches. APL has moved to appoint a Director of Research and Innovation, and the APRIL Chief Scientist/CEO will work closely with that person once in place.
  • Encouraging stronger feedback mechanisms. In this funding round, on every occasion that the Board rejected a proposal, someone had already raised our concern before it made it to the Board. Should we allow for a period of adjustment to research proposals in light of the feedback from the reviewers and/or R&D Advisory Committee? We tend to be asking our Chief Scientist to take on board too much of the feedback to develop projects, and not distinguishing between feedback that is simply helpful in project development (“you need to include another experimental treatment”) versus feedback that should either stop the proposal or trigger a major re-think (“you can buy that in Europe today” or “APL already has that information”). We need everyone involved in the process to feel empowered enough to speak up if a project proposal needs a serious re-think. In this regard, the Board is encouraging every member of the R&D Advisory Committee to voice any concerns. Managers within APRIL and APL are in a good position to see duplication or under- or over-investment in an area, and we are encouraging them to be proactive and voice concerns.

In other news, the Board was pleased with the development of the CRC-P application and the Australian Research Council-Linkage application, and felt there was real expertise and deep thinking applied to the challenges raised in the Strategic Plan. We were delighted with the successful outcome of the Linkage application and obviously disappointed by the failure of the CRC-P application to be funded. However, the CRC-P round was hyper-competitive and APRIL’s application was rated in the top quartile. It can be worked on and resubmitted for the next round, which should open very soon.

In personal news, I have resigned my full-time role with the Cooperative Research Centres’ Association (CRC-A). I hit the 10-year mark and felt it was time for someone else to take over. From now until Christmas, I’ll go part time with the CRC-A as we search for a replacement. I expect the move will give me more time for the APRIL role, and I’ll look at a few other non-executive roles. 

Dr Tony Peacock
APRIL Chair

New APRIL Industry Priority Projects

APRIL received a total of 16 Industry Priority Project proposals, one Commercialisation Project proposal, and five Transformational Project proposals from its call in late 2019/early 2020. The Board is now pleased to announce that it has approved funding for the following five Industry Priority Projects that will commence in the second half of 2020 (Covid-19 permitting):

  1. Heat tolerance (HT) in lactating sows: dietary strategies, metabolic biomarkers and microbiome signature (Project Leader: Professor Eugeni Roura, The University of Queensland).
    • Aims:
    • Test selected dietary supplements to increase the heat tolerance of the lactating sow.
    • Identify individual variations in metabolism between heat tolerant and less heat tolerant sows during lactation (metabolic and microbiome markers in resilient compared to the most vulnerable individuals).
  2. Hot and bothered! Long term impacts of late pregnancy heat stress on sows and progeny (Project Leader: Dr Kate Plush, CHM Alliance).
    • Aims:
    • Demonstrate that heat stress results in a longer duration of farrowing.
    • Identify the impacts longer farrowing duration has on (a) the sow and (b) the piglet, and how this impacts impact long term performance.
    • Test dietary/water additives for reducing farrowing duration during times of heat stress, and determine the production advantages at a commercial level.
    • Conduct a cost:benefit analysis and assessment of farrowing room cooling in the hotter months.
  3. Easing the weaning transition: large piglets from large pellets (Project Leader: Mr Robert Hewitt, CHM Alliance).
    • Aim:
    • Reduce weight variability around weaning through combining two complimentary technologies, large pellets and semi-moist extruded feed, to improve feed intake in the period immediately post-weaning, sustaining weight gain.
  4. Use of thermographic technology to detect reproductive state in sows and improve piglet performance in a commercial farrowing house [Project Leader: Dr Jessica Craig, Rivalea (Australia) Pty Ltd].
    • Aims:
    • Identify the optimum position on the sow for surface temperature measurements in order to predict success in lactation of sows, their health status, as well as the viability of their piglets at birth.
    • Early detection of at-risk piglets, farrowing difficulties, and/or MMA to provide producers with the tools for early intervention for sows and piglets at risk.
  5. Food Waste to Pig Feed – Safe and Bio-secure (Project Leader: Dr Valeria Torok, SARDI; a joint project with the Fight Food Waste CRC).
    • Aims:
    • Address novel approaches to allow increased use of food wastes in pig feed.
    • Identify food safety/biosecurity risks and strategies to mitigate perceived risks of utilising food waste streams into pig feed.
    • Identify waste streams with the least variability in quality and quantity.
    • Determine the economic feasibility of utilising food waste for pig feed in key regional production areas.

The Board also approved a Commercialisation Project submitted by Anatara Lifesciences and Ridley that will examine an in-field practical delivery mechanism (i.e., semi-moist extruded creep feed) of Anatara Lifesciences’ non-antibiotic product (bromelain) for improved post-weaning pig performance.

The successful projects demonstrated great value for money, strong industry support and application and excellent science. APRIL looks forward to these projects commencing.

Unfortunately, and as alluded to above, the APRIL-led Cooperative Research Program-Project (CRC-P) application submitted in March 2020, Pathways to rearing pigs with tails to maximise returns for pork producers, was not supported by the Australian Government. Feedback from the CRC Advisory Committee indicated that although the proposal was well articulated and presented a good potential outcome, that the partner combination was excellent and the methodology was well articulated, with good education opportunities and risk management approach, it rated less competitively than some other applications received in this round.

The application ranked in the top quartile of applications not funded; however, the overall success rate in this CRC-P round was 8%. This percentage is significantly below other competitive funding schemes that are available to APRIL, that typically range from 20-50%. This highlights not only the extremely competitive funding environment in Australia for industry-related research, but also the need for APRIL to be flexible in exploring its external funding leveraging opportunities. APRIL welcomes any feedback and suggestions for such prospects.

Successful Australian Research Council-Linkage project

The University of Queensland, The University of Melbourne, the SunPork Group and DSM, together with support from the Australasian Pork Research Institute Limited (APRIL), have secured an Australian Research Council-Linkage grant exploring the topic, ‘How to make antimicrobials in pig feed redundant, naturally’. This successful grant is another example of APRIL partnering with its members to successfully leverage external funding for a major research project of critical industry-wide importance.

The project will address a major concern in pork production, which relates to the use of in-feed antimicrobials and the association with the development of antimicrobial resistant pathogens in pigs. The overall aim of the project is to develop nutritional strategies aimed at reducing antimicrobial use in piglet feeds. The project will consist of developing a novel nutritional strategy of naturally (through maternal conditioning) boosting the natural appetite and the capacity to digest nutrients in piglets early in life. The anticipated outcome is that the new perinatal program will result in minimal bacterial proliferation and diarrhoea, minimising the need for in-feed antimicrobials in piglets.

Chief Investigators on the project are Professor Eugeni Roura, Professor Mike Gidley and Associate Professor Pat Blackall (Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, The University of Queensland), and Professor Frank Dunshea (Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, The University of Melbourne).

In-kind contributions from the SunPork Group will include expertise in pig feed formulation and pig husbandry practices, including advice on responsible antimicrobial use and advice concerning the selection of grains and pulses for the in vitro work. The involvement of DSM, a global animal nutrition and health solutions company, will be key to novel developments in the use of exogenous enzymes and feed additives (gut environment modifiers). The project will count on the expertise of DSM’s technical team lead by Dr Aaron Cowieson, Dr Anna-Maria Kluenter, Dr Maria Walsh and Geoff Handley.

Total cash funding for the 4-year project is $2,027,819, with the Australian Research Council contributing $852,000 and partners contributing an additional $1,175,519, of which $359,223 derives from APRIL. The total value of the project (cash plus in-kind contributions) is $3,835,847.

From the Chief Scientist/CEO (July 2020)

New initiatives

The Board recently approved a Kickstart fund as part of the 2020/21 Annual Budget. With more details to appear in the coming weeks, the overall aim of the Kickstart fund is to provide seed funding/support funding for organisations to allow for the preparation and submission of specific, targeted major funding applications that would leverage APRIL’s funds (and those of other investors) in line with the Strategic Plan. Significant external funding pools exist both nationally and internationally for potential investment in APRIL’s core activities of research and development, education and training, and commercialisation. It is hoped that the Kickstart fund will increase the number of these applications that are prepared and submitted to ultimately increase the funding pool to undertake more of APRIL’s activities.

APRIL will also announce a funding call for applications for Innovation Projects in the coming weeks. APRIL wants to be seen as a catalyst for innovation and a key co-funder of research and development for the overall benefit of Australasia’s pork industry. Innovation Projects must clearly demonstrate originality, uniqueness and creativity, establish new concepts or challenge existing ones, address significant challenges or critical barriers to progress, and be able to improve or apply new theoretical concepts, methodologies or tools to benefit industry.

APRIL Innovation Projects are negotiable to around 12 to 15 months, have a maximum budget of $50,000 to $75,000, and require a minimum external cash co-investment of 25% of the total cash cost of the project.

Commercialisation Projects

APRIL’s Commercialisation Projects scheme is open all year round. Commercialisation Projects address the issue where the path to market of a product or technology may be close and additional co-investment, that would commonly include other investors, may bring it to fruition. Such projects require a co-investment external contribution of 20% of the total cash project cost, which is negotiable. Duration is also negotiable if beyond 12-18 months. Commercialisation income is a clear imperative for the future of APRIL, hence supporting industry-applicable projects in this domain is critical.

COVID-19 Update

The current coronavirus pandemic continues, unfortunately, to impact on some of APRIL’s activities. APRIL remains in contact with all Project Leaders regarding impacts of COVID-19 that might affect the progress of their project(s). Unavoidably, delays/disruption for some of our projects have occurred and will likely do so into the future. These, in turn, will affect milestones and deliverables and the communication of outcomes to the industry.

Research Project Reporting

Project Leaders should be aware that being awarded a research project with APRIL comes with it a number of contractual responsibilities, namely a quarterly Progress Report and a quarterly Cash Expenditure Report (from the Project Leader’s organisation). With an increasing number of projects having commenced or coming onboard soon, coupled to the rapidly changing developments associated with COVID-19, it is important for us to suitably monitor projects and be able to respond to any issues that might arise in a timely manner, e.g., requests for variations. I send a reminder out every quarter about this and will continue to do so as I appreciate that our researchers are very busy. Funds will not be paid against a project without an approved quarterly Progress Report that details progress against milestones and deliverables, and a Cash Expenditure Report.

Finally, and as mentioned previously, we would welcome receiving APRIL-related information and upcoming events from our Members for possible inclusion in the Newsletter [subject to space (preferred length is 100-150 words) and content], as this as an important communication forum between Members also. Please note though that news of APRIL activities has priority, and items of an advertorial nature are not permitted.

John Pluske (j.pluske@april.org.au)

Annual General Meeting and Stakeholders’ Day

The APRIL AGM and Stakeholders’ Day will be held on Friday 20th November, scheduled currently to be held in Melbourne (in association with the APL Delegates’ Forum and AGM). Clearly, the current uncertainties associated with COVID-19 means that conducting a ‘face-to-face’ AGM and Stakeholders’ Day remains problematic, even though I believe we’d all simply relish the opportunity to be involved in an interactive event instead of Zooming. 

We will keep monitoring the situation and may need to be flexible will regard to the venue/format, but in the interim, I’d ask if you could please place this date in your diaries.

Education and Training Awards: July 2020

APRIL is pleased to advise that Lauren Staveley (Wasleys Piggery Pty Ltd T/A SunPork Farms South) has been awarded an Industry Placement Program (IPP) award, commencing 1 July 2020, for a 3-year period. Lauren completed a Bachelor of Science (Animal Science) with Honours at The University of Adelaide, and is now nearing the end of her PhD thesis, Conception to culling – effective management of the gilt to optimise reproduction and longevity, also through The University of Adelaide. Lauren commenced employment as a Management Trainee at SunPork Farms South in 2018.

APRIL wishes Lauren all the best for her Award.

APRIL circulated a call in May for applications to support its education program to assist further in building human capacity for the pork industry, specifically support for Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)/undergraduate Veterinary Science projects and scholarship Awards for Honours students enrolling mid-year. Disappointingly, no applications were received for these awards. Another call for APRIL Education awards will be made towards the end of the year.

APRIL will soon be seeking applications for another Industry Placement Program (IPP) award to commence later in 2020. Further details will be disseminated at the time. 

Research Snapshot: Development of a ‘healthy pork’ resource for use by consumers, health professionals and regulatory bodies: summary and dissemination of Pork CRC human nutrition research

APRIL has received a Final Report for project 3B-114, Development of a ‘healthy pork’ resource for use by consumers, health professionals and regulatory bodies: summary and dissemination of Pork CRC human nutrition research, by Dr Karen Murphy at the University of South Australia. This was a project supported initially through the Pork CRC but contracted through APRIL. The Cooperative Research Centre for High Integrity Australian Pork funded 16 projects under the ‘Healthy Pork Consumption’ program from 2005 to 2019, with the aims to explore potential health benefits of pork and drivers and barriers to consumption. The main summary points highlighted by Dr Murphy are as follows:

  1. Fresh lean pork is a core food item of the meat, fish, poultry, nuts and legumes group (Australian Guide to Healthy Eating & Mediterranean Dietary Pattern).
  2. A 65 g serve of fresh lean pork provides 15 g of protein, 1 mg thiamine, 0.6 mg iron, 1.1 mg zinc.
  3. Fresh lean pork is rich in essential amino acids (leucine and isoleucine) for building muscle for body strength and functional capacity in the elderly.
  4. Fresh lean pork contains key nutrients important for growth and development.
  5. Fresh lean pork can be included as part of a healthy dietary pattern for weight loss, diabetes and blood pressure management, mood, vitality, quality of life, quality of sleep and general health.
  6. Fresh lean pork can be included as part of a predominantly plant-based diet like the Mediterranean diet, which may preserve cognitive function.
  7. When cooked appropriately, fresh pork is juicy and tender and provides excellent overall eating experience.
  8. 37% of Australian adults eat pork. Of those individuals, less than a quarter (21%) ate fresh pork.
  9. 51% of Australian children eat pork. Of those children, only 14% ate fresh pork, hence there is room for improvement.

Taken together, this research identified specific population groups which required further education on fresh pork:

  • Parents – family recipes, cooking tips, convenient packaging, meal planning guides and kid friendly recipes;
  • Low pork consumers;
  • Non-Asian consumers – more Western-like dishes conforming with plant-based dietary recommendations.

The Final Report has been circulated to Australian Pork Limited and the New Zealand Pork Industry Board.

Commercialisation Update: July 2020

A diagnostic test for Lawsonia intracellularis

APRIL is pleased to announce that a commercial Lawsonia intracellularis quantitative (q)PCR diagnostic test for the detection of sub-clinical and clinical ileitis in pigs is available to Australian pork producers.

An exclusive license agreement for national and international distribution has been signed previously with Apiam Animal Health, an APRIL Foundation Member. A manufacturing agreement between Apiam Animal Health and the NSW Department of Primary Industries has been recently signed, with this agreement signalling the start of testing at Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute (EMAI). This new test is primarily for herd health monitoring of ileitis control using pooled pen faecal samples, but can also be used to diagnose ileitis in individual pigs.

The diagnostic test for Lawsonia intracellularis is a result of years of excellent research and development carried out by Dr Alison Collins from the NSW Department of Primary Industries, (EMAI) and supported by the Pork CRC and APRIL.

Many farms contain sub-clinically affected pigs that don’t necessarily show symptoms, with only a small proportion of pigs showing clinical signs of ileitis such as scouring. Pigs clinically and sub-clinically affected by ileitis show reduced weight gains, poor feed efficiency and increased days to slaughter, which can significantly reduce net revenue. Clinical disease can be mitigated with vaccination, hygiene and/or medication, but the absence of scouring in sub-clinically affected pigs means producers may not actually be aware of any Lawsonia-induced production losses.

The availability of this diagnostic test, to distinguish between clinical and sub-clinical disease, will improve the control and management of ileitis, a major enteric disease of pigs in Australia and around the world.

Pooled-pen faecal samples for Lawsonia qPCR testing is now available to the Australian pork industry. Samples can be submitted directly to EMAI or through ACE Laboratory Services. For further details concerning submission of samples to EMAI please contact Dr Cheryl Jenkins (EMAI) on 02 4640 6384, or ACE Laboratory Services on 03 5443 9665.

AusScan Online Updates

AusScan Online is a website hosting near-infrared (NIR) calibrations that gives users access to in vivo energy calibrations for poultry, swine and ruminants, plus calibrations to measure reactive lysine in soybean and canola meals. Part of the quality assurance system associated with AusScan Online is Ingot Check, which helps to ensure that a customer’s NIR machine is producing consistent results.

Ingot Check continues to grow in popularity and now has two additional laboratories on the global quality assurance scheme managed by Aunir. The two new laboratories are JT Johnson and Sons (Kapunda, SA) and Forage Lab Australia (Bendigo, VIC). The quality assurance scheme involves a managed monthly ring test in which the individual company’s NIR machine is compared against all other machines in the scheme including the Aunir ‘Master’ NIR machine(s), using sachets containing grain samples of referenced NIR values. In Australia our laboratories are using these same sachets to monitor reactive and total lysine values as well the cereal energy calibrations each month. The schemes offer peace of mind to the laboratories as they are able to monitor the stability of their NIR hardware and calibrations. In addition, results are compared against accredited reference analysis and the Aunir ‘Master’ NIR.

In other AusScan Online news, APRIL can announce that a new NIR calibration is now available to AusScan Online users for the determination of faecal starch content in cattle/dairy cows. This calibration was derived from over 300 samples of faeces collected from individual steers offered feedlot rations containing barley, wheat, triticale and sorghum grains that had been processed to various degrees. The dried samples were scanned with a NIR spectrophotometer and analysed for starch content, and a calibration was subsequently established using scans and starch analyses from the faecal samples. The calibration is rated as ‘excellent’, with a correlation of 0.99 between predicted and actual faecal starch content.

Details relating to access to the calibration can be found on the AusScan Online website.

For any further information in relation to AusScan Online, please contact Dr Charles Rikard-Bell, APRIL Manager, Commercialisation and Research Impact (c.rikardbell@april.org.au; 0439 513 723).

[Now closed] Call for tender: Strengthening the AusScan Online Pig Digestible Energy (DE) calibrations

Near infrared spectrophotometry (NIR) calibrations were developed within the Premium Grains for Livestock Program (PGLP) and the Pork CRC for ileal DE and faecal DE (MJ/kg) of cereal grains for growing pigs.

Near infrared spectrophotometry (NIR) calibrations were developed within the Premium Grains for Livestock Program (PGLP) and the Pork CRC for ileal DE and faecal DE (MJ/kg) of cereal grains for growing pigs. The DE calibrations for pigs contain a wide range of cereal grains including natural and artificially weather damaged grains, and at present the calibration includes only grains grown in Australia. In order to improve the robustness of the calibrations maize grains from overseas are to be incorporated into the calibrations, as well as connectivity grains.

APRIL manages the license for the commercial use of the AusScan Online calibrations and is responsible for maintaining and upgrading the calibrations. Recently, APRIL upgraded the poultry AME calibrations by including high energy wheat varieties from Europe and Canada, which significantly enhanced the robustness of the calibrations and improved their validity for use outside of Australia.

APRIL is requiring a qualified research team (or teams) with access to suitable facilities to provide the required specialisations to upgrade the current AusScan Online Pig DE calibrations. The research project will use imported maize samples and a number of connectivity grains (grains from previous studies), which will provide additional data for the pig Ileal DE and faecal DE calibrations to improve the validity and suitability of AusScan Online.

The DE calibrations for pigs contain a wide range of cereal grains including natural and artificially weather damaged grains, and at present the calibration includes only grains grown in Australia. In order to improve the robustness of the calibrations maize grains from overseas are to be incorporated into the calibrations, as well as connectivity grains.

APRIL is requiring a qualified research team (or teams) with access to suitable facilities to provide the required specialisations to upgrade the current AusScan Online Pig DE calibrations. The research project will use imported maize samples and a number of connectivity grains (grains from previous studies), which will provide additional data for the pig Ileal DE and faecal DE calibrations to improve the validity and suitability of AusScan Online.

The tender opened on 3 August 2020 and closed on 31 August 2020.

For further information or inquiries, please contact Dr Charles Rikard-Bell, APRIL Manager, Commercialisation and Research Impact (c.rikardbell@april.org.au; 0439 513 723).

Member Focus: A/Prof Susanne Hermesch

A new initiative of the APRIL Newsletter is Member Focus, which provides an opportunity for people affiliated with APRIL to learn more about other APRIL Members or individuals working/associated with the industry. If you would like to volunteer for this segment (as opposed to me asking you!), please feel free to contact me directly.

A/Prof Susanne Hermesch

(Susanne.Hermesch@une.edu.au)

Susanne calls Australia home since 1992, when she began her PhD in pig breeding at the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit (AGBU) at the University of New England (UNE) in Armidale. Following her PhD, Susanne continued to support the Australasian pig industry through research on genetic improvement of efficient lean meat growth, carcase quality, sow lifetime performance and piglet survival. Her research outputs for the Pork CRC about genetic improvement of disease resilience, robustness, health and welfare of pigs has gained international recognition. Currently, Susanne leads research about avenues to reduce the incidence of tail biting in pigs and genetic improvement of seasonal fertility. This research is conducted in collaboration with APRIL and other industry partners. Susanne is committed to fostering the adoption of genetic principles by the Australasian pig industry and enjoys supporting and training postgraduate students and postdoctoral fellows in all aspects of selective breeding of pigs.

Susanne was a committee member of the Australasian Pig Science Association (Inc) from 1997 to 2003 and was a co-editor of the Association for the Advancement of Animal in 2019. Currently, Susanne is the President of the Permanent Committee of the World Congress on Genetics Applied to Livestock Production and she is a member of the Advisory Board of the European Master in Animal Breeding and Genetics, a recognised Erasmus Mundus course.

Through UNE, AGBU is a Participating Member of APRIL. Susanne believes that AGBU can contribute to finding new solutions for challenges the industry faces. This will be achieved through collaborative research with other Universities and industry partners. APRIL plays a key role in fostering such a wide-spread collaborative research approach for the Australasian pig industry.