Born and bred in the South, Gemma gained her BSc at Otago, followed by an MSc in human genetics and a PhD focused on sheep genetics. She has worked with AgResearch, AbacusBio and the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation and more recently provided consultancy services as Senior Science and Technical Advisor to the New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council.
She joined B+LNZ in December and is leading the Informing New Zealand Beef (INZB) genetics programme. The seven-year partnership between B+LNZ and the Ministry for Primary Industries aims to boost the sector’s profits by $460m over the next 25 years.
The programme is focussed on maximising profitability in the New Zealand beef industry in a sustainable way by increasing the uptake of the use of genetics in the beef industry.
The four main components are building a genetic evaluation and data infrastructure, capturing new data through progeny test herds and the inclusion of commercial farms, developing breeding objectives and indexes, and most importantly extension work.
Ultimately, it will provide farmers with the genetic selection tools they need to breed animals better suited to New Zealand’s farming conditions.
“The opportunity to drive really good industry engagement and develop tools unique to the New Zealand beef industry are major attractions of this role for me,” says Gemma.
“While working at AbacusBio, we undertook a major review of the New Zealand dairy industry’s national breeding objective and engaged extensively with key stakeholders and farmers to get feedback on what traits and genetic tools were important to industry. There was also great industry engagement in the Medicinal Cannabis Council work, with everyone in the sector motivated to work for the greater good of the industry.
“Engagement and extension is something we’d like to see done very well in this programme – for people in the sector to not just be aware of the INZB programme but to have a real say in how the indexes are developed and have the skills they feel are necessary to use these genetic tools.
“This year, we plan on carrying out an industry survey around trait prioritisation – that is, we would like to know what traits are important to farmers, how they make selection decisions and what genetic tools they think would be beneficial to their operations.
“We will be building a genetic evaluation and developing the nProve tool for beef, similar to that already used by New Zealand sheep farmers,” says Gemma. “That will support farmers to make good selection and management decisions on farm.”