EBV argument continues

Kelso Ram Sales.
Kelso Ram Sales.

Every now and again I get one of those “Beam me up, Scotty” moments - for example when I read that some people still believe the earth is flat or about creationists who insist that earth and everything on it was produced fully formed in six days a few thousand, not billions, of years ago and that evolution hasn’t happened.

Or, in farming, that the pedigree breeding backwoodsmen still argue that performance recording of livestock traits is a waste of time and that a good stockman’s eye is all that is necessary.

All three examples of belief share a common factor - commonsense and all evidence is against them. The earth is round, evolution is a fact and recording as many factors as possible related to an animal’s potential breeding value will produce better livestock.

Pig, poultry and dairy farmers and scientists have proved that absolutely over the past half-century, as have many progressive sheep and beef farmers. Only the diehard dinosaurs – if that’s not too mixed a metaphor – of the “eye and instinct” school of livestock breeding argue that methods, such as Estimated Breeding Value, don’t work.

One such breeder told The Scottish Farmer: “Figures are a complete waste of time and it’s only those who can’t breed good sheep that are pushing them.” The worrying thing is that such views still get publicity and credence in 2013 rather than 1913. Mercifully, there was a response in the magazine’s letter pages to counter “such negative, flat earth, thinking” including what I’ve always thought was the crux of the argument from Campbell Tweed, chairman of the Maternal Sheep Group, who said: “If you don’t measure it, how can you improve it?” Critics of EBV, he suggested, were only critics because they couldn’t provide figures for potential buyers and “choose to protect their own by attacking performance recording progress.”

He’s right, but any hopes I might once have had that logic and performance recording would eventually oust “traditional” methods of breeding and selection by eye alone have long gone. As I’ve noted before it’s no coincidence that sheep and cattle breeding are subsidised and breeding, production and thinking are generally miles behind un-subsidised pig and poultry production. The EBV argument is simply another symptom of backward thinking and with Blackface ram sales on the way we’re about to get our annual reminder of how backward that can be.

Back in the real world, farmers got the old “Good news – bad news” routine when the value of the euro – in which European Union CAP subsidies are paid – was calculated as 83.625p. That was good news, almost 4p per euro up on the previous year, if below the heady days of almost 86p in 2011. However, the bad news, this year all subsidy payments are subject to EU “financial discipline” which will knock about 4% off. So, effectively, 2013 payments will be almost the same as 2012.

On the brighter side I think we can safely say that harvest is now over with the sight of an uncut field as rare as a sighting of a crested grebe and autumn drilled fields of barley, wheat and oilseed looking thick, green and healthy.