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USDA Awards Grants to Improve Cattle Production and Health

Media Contact: Jennifer Martin, (202) 720-8188

COLUMBIA, Mo., April 15, 2011 – Roger Beachy, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), today announced two grant awards to the University of Missouri and Texas A&M University to support research, education and outreach on cattle production to increase global food security.

“The United States is the world's largest producer of beef and milk and has the largest fed-cattle industry in the world,” Beachy said. “As the demand for food rises due to a growing global population, it will be critically important to develop methods to produce more food with greater efficiency, while lowering the prevalence of bovine respiratory disease that inflicts significant losses each year.”

NIFA awarded $4.9 million to the University of Missouri in support of a five-year research project led by Dr. Jeremy Taylor to discover methods to improve feed efficiency in beef cattle. Feed efficiency is defined as the amount of milk, meat or eggs produced per unit of feed consumed. Increased feed efficiency leads to more food produced with fewer resources and less waste, thereby reducing the environmental impact of farms.

Taylor’s team will study the genetic factors that affect feed efficiency of cattle. Researchers will use advanced DNA genotyping techniques to evaluate 8,000 individually fed cattle, and develop DNA-based models that predict which genotypes link to increased feed efficiency. The project will also strive to develop marker-assisted management systems that increase profitability. Undergraduate and graduate students will participate in the research and learn about feed efficiency.

Dr. Taylor’s team includes scientists from the University of Illinois, Iowa State University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Nebraska, Texas A&M University, Washington State University and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

NIFA also awarded a $9.75 million grant to Texas A&M University to support research led by Dr. James Womack to reduce the prevalence of bovine respiratory disease (BRD) in beef and dairy cattle. BRD is the leading natural cause of death in beef and dairy cattle, causing annual losses of more than 1 million animals valued at nearly $700 million.

Womack and colleagues will use a DNA-based approach similar to that used in the feed efficiency study to identify cattle that are resistant to disease-causing pathogens. In addition to studying known pathogens, they will identify novel pathogens responsible for BRD. The data will be used to develop BRD diagnostic tests and genetic selection tools to identify BRD-resistant animals, while also assessing the welfare of cattle with BRD. The researchers intend to share their results with producers and develop undergraduate courses and related educational materials and instruction for 4-H youth.

Womack’s team includes scientists from the University of California-Davis, Colorado State University, the University of Missouri, New Mexico State University, Washington State University and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

The grants were awarded through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). AFRI’s global food security challenge area focuses on two intertwined issues: food availability and food accessibility. Adequate food availability implies that the population has a reliable source of food from domestic or international production. For adequate food accessibility, the population must have sufficient resources to purchase food for a nutritious diet. The long-term goal of this program is to increase global food availability through increased and sustainable food production with reduced losses.

AFRI is NIFA’s flagship competitive grant program and was established under the 2008 Farm Bill. AFRI supports work in six priority areas: plant health and production and plant products; animal health and production and animal products; food safety, nutrition and health; renewable energy, natural resources and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future. More information is available at: www.nifa.usda.gov.

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