Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Report highlights environmental improvements from genetic gains

A new report says 30 years of breeding by dairy farmers using LIC genetics has netted a 13% fall in methane emissions and 16% less urinary nitrogen per kilogram of milksolid produced.

A new report says 30 years of breeding by dairy farmers using LIC genetics has netted a 13% fall in methane emissions and 16% less urinary nitrogen per kilogram of milksolid produced.

This genetic improvement from LIC’s premier sire bulls produced this on-farm reduction between 1990-2020, the co-operative’s inaugural Sustainability Report said.

LIC chief executive Wayne McNee says this herd improvement has been the primary way LIC has helped farmers lower their environmental footprint.

“With the combination of cow numbers reduced by about 1% a year over the past few years and when you add to that increased efficiency, I think it’s very achievable to reach the Climate Change Commission’s reduction target by 2030,” McNee said.

Some farmers were early adopters of using these genetics to be more sustainable, while for others it had taken longer.

“But every farmer we talk to now, this is top of the mind and it’s top of the mind either because they’re worried about the impact it’s going to have on their business or they really want to make a difference,” he said.

“I’m seeing a more of a shift in that latter group of farmers who are saying, ‘this is real and I need to do something about it’.”

High genetic merit animals are more environmentally efficient because they partition a greater proportion of their feed eaten into milksolids and less into waste. That merit goes beyond production traits and also includes good fertility, animal health, conformation and longevity, as well as milk fat and protein production relative to their liveweight. 

LIC developed and uses Breeding Worth (BW) as a metric to compare the efficiency of breeding animals.

The report said that for each additional $10BW advantage an animal has, 2g less enteric methane and 1.7g less urinary nitrogen is produced per kilogram of milksolid production.

LIC’s premium genetics range accounted for 41% of the total artificial breeding inseminations in 2020-21, up from 18.4% in 2017-18, with genetic gains delivered two to three years earlier through the genomic selection of bulls, compared to the historical daughter-proven approach.

McNee expected that cow efficiency would accelerate even further as more farmers use modern genomics. This, combined with their methane research, LIC is involved with CRV to develop bulls that produce cows that produce less methane.

There was also ongoing research into seaweed and creating a vaccine as methane inhibitors.

“There’s lots of research going on in this area,” he said.

The report highlights LIC’s sustainability targets, which as a company are to reduce its GHG emissions by 46.2% using 2018-2019 as a base year and its biogenic methane emissions by 10% against 2017 emissions.

“The toughest one for us will be biogenic methane because we have 1000 bulls and we need those bulls’ genetics for the national herd,” he said.

He says they were assessing whether they need such a large team of bulls or whether the company can use a fewer number, but more efficiently.

Between June 2020 and May 2021 it reduced its CO2 emissions by 6.45%.

The report is a requirement of LIC being a member of the Sustainable Business Council.

It was written and reviewed by LIC management, then reviewed and approved by the LIC Board. While there was no external assurance, LIC’s external auditors, KPMG, confirmed any financials in the report were aligned to the financials they have previously audited for annual reports.

A spokesperson said LIC was working towards independent assurance of its emissions reporting.

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