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Want to beef up cattle production? There will soon be an app for that

Scott Elliott
ARS Office of Communications
Sixteen different breeds and combinations of breeds are represented in the USMARC cattle herd. The variability of breed composition in the herd is obvious in the varied appearance of the animals.
Photo by Mark Thallman/USDA-ARS

A team of researchers in the Midwest, including Agricultural Research Service scientists from the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Neb., is developing a web-based tool that will help cattle producers select the best bull for their herds.

Called iGENDEC, for internet genetic decisions, the tool will give beef cattle producers a way to compare bulls. They can then make breeding decisions based on data available from research studies and multiple genetic evaluation systems.

“The plan is that iGENDEC will be web-based to increase the ease and likelihood of use,” said Larry Kuehn, research geneticist at USMARC. “It will provide economic rankings between bulls that producers could choose from so that they can pick which would be most beneficial to their economic bottom line.”

Producers will input data from their operation — breed composition, average weaning weight, marketing program, feed costs, etc. — and iGENDEC will rank bulls from multiple breeds according to which might improve herd profitability. The program uses criteria that weigh the economic impact of traits according to their expected returns or costs, Kuehn said.

Early testing has shown promising results. The team used bull sale catalogs for iGENDEC’s alpha phase testing. From a quick glance in just one catalog, they saw profit differential between two bulls of at least $20 per mating. “Given that a bull could easily sire 50-100 progeny, this differential could result in at least a $1,000 profit difference between bulls,” Kuehn said. “We expect these differences to increase with more traits and wider variation across producers and herds.”

There are other genetic evaluation systems available that provide their own selection indices; however, they are not customized to the environments, markets, and types of production of individual producers. The customizable system of iGENDEC will improve upon these indices, Kuehn said.

iGENDEC’s potential may also extend from ranch to table. “Consumers may not initially see a direct result, but increased efficiency and profitability for producers will keep beef prices competitive,” Kuehn said. “But the tool could be adapted to meet consumer demands and markets for beef, such as improved taste, healthfulness, and environmental impact. If market forces from consumers dictate that they are valued and methods are developed to collect data and develop genetic prediction for these trait complexes, they could be added to iGENDEC.”

iGENDEC will move to beta testing later this year and should be available to beef cattle producers in 2021.

The iGENDEC research team includes lead scientist Matt Spangler, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Bob Weaber, Kansas State University; Warren Snelling, Mark Thallman, and Kuehn, USMARC; and Bruce Golden, of Theta Solutions. ❖


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Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., former Vice President Joe Biden’s choice as a vice presidential candidate, has said she is not a protectionist and believes in trade.But she has also said she would not have voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement, voted against the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement due to environmental concerns, and opposed the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations from which President Donald Trump withdrew, according to media reports.At a primary debate in September 2019 when she was campaigning for president, Harris said, “I am not a protectionist Democrat. Look, we need to sell our stuff. And that means we need to sell it to people overseas. That means we need trade policies that allow that to happen.”Harris has also been critical of Trump’s trade policies, calling increased tariffs a tax on the American people.Responding to a Council on Foreign Relations questionnaire, Harris said,Trump’s “trade war is crushing American farmers, killing American jobs, and punishing American consumers.”“I would work with our allies in Europe and Asia to confront China on its troubling trade practices, not perpetuate Trump’s failing tariff war that is being paid for by hard‐working Americans,” she said.Harris’s rural platform also said that she would take executive action to re-establish the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration as an independent office at the Agriculture Department and “appoint an Agriculture secretary who will prioritize enforcement of the Packers & Stockyards Act.”Re-establishing GIPSA has been a goal of groups that are critical of U.S. beef imports.Note: Links to Harris’s presidential campaign website have been redirected to the Biden campaign site, but the text of her “Partnership With Rural America” policy page may still be read through a web cache, at https://www.cato.org/blog/kamala-harris-trade-policy.In an analysis of Harris’s trade statements, Simon Lester of the Cato Institute wrote this week, “Where does all of that leave us? She does not seem to be an economic nationalist or isolationist, and she makes clear that she believes the United States should engage with the world economically.”“At the same time, though, the terms of that engagement are a bit uncertain. What exactly would she want to see in a trade agreement before she would sign on to it? She clearly wants more labor and environment provisions in trade agreements, although USMCA had quite a lot and she still voted against it, arguing that climate change should be covered as well.“Maybe the answer is simply that she wants to change the scope of trade agreements, so that they still promote trade liberalization, but at the same time continue their expansion towards general global governance of non‐trade issues. Vice presidents sometimes take on specific issue areas in which to play an active role. If Biden wins and Harris as VP has trade in her portfolio, we will find out more.”

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