October 2021

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Sean McGrath: 5th generation rancher, believer in genomics

In our September 2021 newsletter, we announced some exciting changes underway at Gentec.  The first was the addition of two new and exceptionally well-qualified producers to our Management Advisory Board (MAB). The second was a new re-occurring feature focusing on the history and stories behind Alberta’s distinguished Centennial Ranches that have been in continuous operation for at least 100 years. The ranches of our two new MAB members are members of this prestigious circle. This month, we profile Sean McGrath. Read more here .

Gentec, Genomics and One Health

Jay Cross, former chair of Gentec’s Board, is the first veterinarian to become incoming president of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. CAHS has a mandate from the government to advise Canadians on One Health issues. Jay spoke to Gentec about its own mandate for the future, especially as it relates to One Health. Read more here.

Gentec's Arm-chair Rancher app would have predicted Prairie drought, provided solutions

Gentec CEO Graham Plastow and UAlberta colleague David Wishart are developing the Arm-Chair Rancher app to help producers make better decisions informed by data. Had the app been ready in 2021, for example, producers would have known well in advance to prepare for a dry summer. Of course, the data won't all be weather-related. More data means more information to make producers' lives just that little bit easier. Read more here.

Protect the grasslands... by grazing them

An October 4, 2021 article in the Food Navigator titled “Grasslands in crisis: Why the food industry should act now” described the impact of food production on global grassland degradation and loss. This scenario has been unfolding in western Canada as well, including Alberta, where grasslands continue to experience chronic declines due to urban-industrial sprawl, coupled with grassland conversion to annual cropland.

Declines will probably accelerate in the near future due to record high commodity prices in 2021, which are likely to drive many private landholders to increase their crop acreage at the expense of retaining grazing land. Converting grasslands, particularly native grasslands, to other land uses comes at a high environmental cost, including the loss of biodiversity and wildlife habitat, reduced water capture and storage, as well as lower soil carbon storage and increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Researchers at UAlberta , including those affiliated with the Rangeland Research Institute, have recognized this for some time and, with the support of industry partners, are quantifying and characterizing the magnitude of EG&S (environmental goods and services) provided by grasslands more fully. As a novel approach to conserving these grasslands, they are exploring the role of cattle genomics in regulating the behaviour, productivity and environmental footprint of cattle while grazing on open rangelands (precision ranching). Armed with information on the EG&S provided by grasslands and associated cattle management, they can develop innovative policies that reward producers for maintaining and enhancing grasslands, including their diverse ecosystem services, as well as highlight the compatibility of grassland conservation with ongoing beef production.
Ed Bork, Matthias Research Chair, UAlberta

Epigenetic changes in the offspring of heifers fed a restricted maternal diet

Residual feed intake (RFI) is a desired heritable trait in beef cattle. Animals with lower RFI are more feed-efficient although epigenetic variations can affect this trait. The environmental circumstances and molecular mechanisms behind how epigenetics leads to variations in RFI however are not well understood. Read more here. The original study by Gentec-associated researcher Carolyn Fitzsimmons is here. Download the Gentec summary here.

WEBINAR REPORT. After E-Day: The challenges and opportunities of Canada’s federal government regarding agriculture

Canada must have a plan to protect and invest in our agri-food systems so that it can be economically beneficial and sustainable in the long term. For that to happen, the right policies must be put in place, backed by strategic thinking, a systems approach, and supported by strong public-private partnerships and aspirational leadership. The Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute brought together its 4 Distinguished Fellows (of whom Gentec-associated researcher Ellen Goddard is one) in a webinar, which we summarize for you here.


Former Gentec PhD student, Xuechun Bai started her industry career with Hendrix Genetics in Ontario on October 1. Xuechun has been a valued colleague, always willing to help anybody on the team.
Surya Acharya received the 2021 Canadian Beef Industry Award for Outstanding Research and Innovation to recognize the positive impacts of his research on advancing the beef industry. His current research focuses on developing new cultivars of legume species with improvements in yield, nutritional quality and persistence, among other traits. Read more here.
The former director of the Centre for the Genetic Improvement of Livestock in Guelph, Steve Miller, has been named Director of the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit in Armidale, Australia. Read more here. Steve was heavily involved in Gentec's early years.

Gentec-associated researcher, Ellen Goddard is one of four experts named a Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute Distinguished Fellow who will use their expertise to develop solutions that turn the challenges the agri-food system faces today and tomorrow into opportunities. Read more here. See more on Ellen's policy-oriented work here.

Former chair of Gentec's Board and current chair of Sendero, Jay Cross is the first-ever veterinarian to head the Canadian Academy of Health Science. Jay brings a one-health focus to health. Read more here.

Congratulations, everybody!

No difference in meat, milk from gene-edited cows vs conventional cows

In studies, scientists from the University of California Davis (including former Gentec conference speaker, Alison Van Eenennaam) found no significant differences between animal products from gene-edited cows and conventional cows. Read more here.

LRIC's mentorship program helps new livestock faculty understand ag

Livestock Research Innovation Corporation (LRIC), based in Guelph, has just wrapped up the first edition of a program to connect new faculty to producers. The thinking is that researchers focus on their area of interest but connecting them to producers who live today's big challenges will benefit technology and knowledge transfer. Read more here.

RDAR and CBIN fund genetics platform for producers

RDAR has invested $640,000 in a collaborative research project with the Canadian Beef Improvement Network (CBIN) to springboard the development of a unified, standardized, and producer-accessible beef cattle genetics data platform. Read more here.

JOB NOTICE: new Beef Industry Integrated Forage Management and Utilization Chair at USask

USask is looking for a skilled researcher with "a complete big picture understanding of forage systems and how they’re managed at the animal-plant interface, how they grow, and what grazing and management strategies might optimize the whole system, including the health and productivity of the animals, as well as that of the pasture that sustains them." Find out more here and here.


November 2-18. North American International Livestock Exposition. Louisville, KY, USA
November 3 and 17. Talk it out (mental health sessions for producers)
November 4. Agriculture Enlightened Conference. Winnipeg, MB
November 10-12. Agri-Trade Equipment Expo. Red Deer, AB
November 10-13. FarmFair International. Edmonton, AB
November 15-17. Manitoba Forage and Grassland Assoc. Regenerative Agriculture Conference. Brandon, MB
November 16. What to know before you buy or lease equipment webinar
November 16-17. Saskatchewan Pork Industry Symposium. Saskatoon, SK
November 17. Basics of Backgrounding Webinar
November 18. Cultivating Trust: Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan.
November 18. GWFA Improved Forage & Winter Grazing Pasture Field Demo
November 22-23. Advancing Women in Agriculture
November 22-27. Canadian Western Agribition. Regina, SK
November 23. John Waters Zoonotic Diseases Workshop. Edmonton, AB
November 24-26. Agricultural Excellence (AgEx)
November 25-27. National Farmers’ Union Convention
November 30-December 2. GrowCanada Conference. Calgary, AB
until December 7. Antimicrobial Resistance from a One Health Approach. Webinar series
December 7-9. Farm Forum Event.
December 14-16. CFGA 12th Annual Conference

The lighter side: Pigs in blankets could be hit by post-Brexit supply problems

You have to be a Brit or know one to realize that this isn't about keeping individual pigs warm. Sausages wrapped in bacon are a huge Holiday favourite in the UK--and now in short supply. Read more here.
© Livestock Gentec, 2021

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