Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Single BW index in dairy’s best interest

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DairyNZ proposes a boost for genetic gains with ‘independent, reliable’ new index.
NZ is missing out on genetic gains due to slow on-farm adoption of genomics, fragmented datasets and multiple versions of Breeding Worth presented to farmers, says DairyNZ chair Jim van der Poel.
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By Jim van der Poel, DairyNZ chair

Kiwi dairy farmers continuously strive to be world-leaders in pasture-based production, emissions efficiency and animal care. Our sector’s success in global trade relies on these factors.

Maximising genetic gain is important if New Zealand is to continue being world leading. Genetic gain expressed in Breeding Worth (BW) results in cows that are more efficient producers, meaning they need less feed for each kilogram of milk they produce. 

Right now we are missing out on genetic gain due to slow on-farm adoption of genomics, fragmented datasets and multiple versions of BW presented to farmers.

That’s why NZ Animal Evaluation Ltd (NZAEL), a DairyNZ subsidiary, is proposing a single, independent BW index that will include all useful genomic information and make NZAEL’s BW more reliable and the sector standard. 

Having more reliable information allows farmers to make better decisions, which will help ensure genetic gain is the best it can be for Kiwi dairy farmers. This will help NZ keep up with the rest of the world when it comes to rates of genetic gain – meaning our farmers will be able to breed better animals every year. 

We want to help all dairy farmers in NZ unlock additional potential profit – for their benefit and that of NZ as a whole. The work we have done shows us this change is the right thing to do. However, we need an operating model that is fair to all participants. A model that encourages all sector participants to get involved will see everyone working together and  give us the greatest chance of success. We have developed a proposal and are now consulting with farmers and sector participants to get feedback to improve our thinking.

To be clear: NZAEL is not seeking to own genomics data. Commercial breeding companies will retain ownership of the genomic data they have invested in collecting. 

However, as an industry good organisation we are requesting access to it so the whole sector can benefit. This is the same approach taken to the current phenotypic data – such as herd testing data – that flows into the Dairy Industry Good Animal Database.

This is a significant change for the sector and brings plenty of challenges, but we believe we would be remiss in our duty to farmers not to work towards this change. This is about dairy farmers and us all working together to get the best outcomes.

We believe the development of one BW with genomics by NZAEL as an industry good body, on behalf of the sector, is a positive use of farmer levies. 

NZAEL works closely with world-renowned experts – agricultural geneticist Dorian Garrick and AbacusBio managing director and agricultural scientist Peter Amer – who have made it clear NZ’s rate of genetic gain has not improved to the level we should expect in the past 10 years.  This consultation process is about making sure it can be going forward.

Their work has shown rates in other countries have risen significantly. NZ is falling behind and this has reduced sector competitiveness and farmer profit from what it could have been. 

They also believe the sector’s rate of genetic gain could increase by up to 50% due to greater adoption of genomics and a whole-of-sector approach. This level of improvement, from modelling we have done, could have delivered an additional $136 million of annual value to the sector over the past 10 years. 

As a sector, we need to work together to ensure NZ takes full advantage of the opportunity genomics represents, so we can achieve world-leading rates of genetic gain. 

Along with breeding companies, we are committed to finding a sustainable solution for NZ dairy farmers.  

More information about the proposal is available on the DairyNZ website. Consultation is open until 5pm, Tuesday, June 27. 

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