Neal Fogarty - forty years in the sheep industry

Neal Fogarty
Neal Fogarty now works for the Department in a part-time capacity as a Post-Retirement Research Fellow

Neal Fogarty has worked in the lamb industry for over forty years. In that time there have been many highlights for Neal and the sheep research team in NSW DPI. NSW DPI interviewed Neal in March 2008, shortly after his retirement. Neal now works for the Department in a part-time capacity as a Post-Retirement Research Fellow based at Orange Agricultural Institute.

DPI: What was the Australian sheep and wool industry like when you started out? What have been the more significant developments that you have observed during your career?

NF: There was a structured crossbreeding system... developed in the early 1900’s (that) had not changed much since then... The lamb industry comprised small mixed farming enterprises... There was poor profitability and fortunes were linked to the wool industry.

During the 1970’s and 80’s terminal sire breeders became interested in making greater genetic improvement... However the 1980’s was a depressed time for prices and profitability in the lamb industry with consumers turning away from lamb - the product and industry had to change to survive - and it did "The Lamb Revolution"!

DPI: What exactly was the "lamb revolution" - can you outline some of those stages and what the Department’s role was?

NF: Successful revolutions don’t just happen. They require planning, cooperation, organisation, dedication, persistence and a commitment to succeed.

In the late 1980’s the industry was fragmented and dispirited, with low auction prices for lambs, a product that was a loss leader in supermarkets and regarded as too fat and wasteful by consumers.

Per capita consumption was declining rapidly (5% pa), production was dominated by the domestic market and it remained a by-product of the wool industry.

DPI: How did the lamb revolution occur?

NF: I think the lamb revolution is a remarkable success story of rural Australia, in which NSW Agriculture (now NSW DPI) played a significant role. A coordinated national program of research, production and product development, marketing and promotion was developed in the early 1990’s to arrest the declining domestic consumption and boost exports.

The Meat Research Corporation, now Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), coordinated and funded the program with NSW Agriculture taking a leading role in the research, production and domestic marketing areas.

The early successes in demonstrating commercial advantages and production possibilities for heavier and leaner carcasses led to a combined effort by all stake-holders (producers, processors, retailers, scientists and service providers) to develop a common strategy and plan for the industry...

The past decade has seen a major culture shift with lamb now viewed as an industry in its own right...  NSW DPI (NSW Agriculture) Lamb Team of research, advisory and support staff has made significant contributions to the revolution.

DPI: What are some of the more significant changes to R&D, in agriculture in particular, over the term of your 40-year career?

NF: In sheep genetics in particular, the developments in computing capacity and associated tools for genetic evaluation of animals.

These developments have allowed massive amounts of data on industry animals to be captured and the algorithms developed to allow genetic comparison of animals across flocks (and in some cases across breeds).

LAMBPLAN has been an integral part of this and the sheep genetics group in NSW DPI have played a major role in its development and implementation in industry in the early days.

Download the full interview.