This article first appeared in our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.
When it comes to agricultural genetics and how they can benefit New Zealand dairy farmers and the wider sector, few people know more than Dorian Garrick.
The world-leading agricultural geneticist has an impressive work history in the animal breeding and genetics field. His role with New Zealand Animal Evaluation Ltd (NZAEL) involves ensuring data quality and evaluation systems are best practice so the dairy sector can achieve globally competitive rates of genetic gain.
As Garrick puts it, he fills in the technical activities behind NZAEL’s Breeding Worth (BW) index, which is used to rank cows and bulls on their expected ability to breed replacements that are more efficient and more profitable in NZ systems. Garrick’s overseas experience reinforces the need for a NZ index.
He was one of the developers of BW in 1996, when LIC ran animal evaluation for the sector. Now he’s using his passion and experience in animal evaluation science to help NZAEL further improve the system, to collectively deliver faster genetic gains.
Genetic gains in BW result in cows that are more efficient feeders, meaning they need less feed for each kilogram of milk they produce. Those gains help New Zealand dairy farmers be more successful and profitable. “Farmers have to breed their cows to get in calf and produce milk. If above-average sires are used, the daughters born each year will be better than those born the year before,” he says.
NZAEL is the industry-good organisation for genetic evaluation. A subsidiary of DairyNZ, it aims to ensure New Zealand’s dairy herd is resilient and productive, and that the country’s rates of genetic gain are internationally competitive. It works closely with the dairy sector to inform farmers’ breeding decisions based on strong data, to increase genetic gain of their herds and farm profit.
“NZAEL’s role is to give dairy farmers confidence BW is accurate and reliable, so successive calf crops are always better than the last,” he says.
“A big part of that is ensuring accurate data, facilitating two-way communication with farmers and paying attention to the record-keeping that drives the science and technology behind producing better bulls and improving profitability for farmers.”
His animal genetics career started in 1982 when, armed with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree with first-class honours from Massey University, he stayed on to work in research. In 1985 he won a Fulbright scholarship and other fellowships to undertake a PhD at Cornell University in New York, where he spent three years.
He always wanted to be a farmer so, when he finished his PhD and came back to New Zealand, he and his wife Karen bought an 80ha Manawatū farm. Together they bred and finished cattle, deer and sheep while they brought up their three children. Karen also reared calves.
The farm was leased out in 2002 when the family moved to the United States for what would be 15 years, but the experience has helped him with his genetics work.
“Understanding farmers’ needs and challenges is key to NZAEL’s work,” Garrick says.
He enjoys addressing those challenges, and he’s good at it. He’s also passionate about NZAEL’s work to enhance New Zealand’s genetic gain.
“I am driven by thinking we can always do things better and finding solutions to problems that can be implemented,” he says. “We should be doing everything we can to make the sector better, and we should do it together. We don’t have to compete or work in isolation.”
More: For more information on NZAEL and its work, visit dairynz.co.nz/animalevaluation