Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Single BW index opposed by genetics firms

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LIC and CRV question need for a new index as mooted by DairyNZ.
‘Dairy farmers in NZ already own a herd improvement co-operative and have invested tens of millions of dollars into genomic technology,’ says LIC chief executive David Chin. ‘We think the rates of genetic gain are going pretty good.’
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DairyNZ’s proposal for a new animal evaluation breeding index that incorporates genomics is being opposed by New Zealand’s two biggest dairy genetic improvement companies, CRV and LIC.

Consultation on the proposal by DairyNZ and New Zealand Animal Evaluation Limited (NZAEL), under the title A Better BW for the New Zealand Dairy Sector, has wrapped up with both companies saying it will not benefit the dairy industry.

The proposal by DairyNZ and its subsidiary NZAEL is to have one independent source of breeding worth (BW) as well as improved BW accuracy from using genomics and better data.

This new BW would “provide a single trustworthy estimate of an animal’s breeding potential” for farmers looking to improve their herd’s genetics, according to a summary of the consultation document.

Currently, CRV, LIC and NZAEL produce different versions of BW, with genomics not included in NZAEL calculations, the proposal said.

DairyNZ chair Jim van der Poel said in an email to dairy farmers that, during consultations, farmers were largely supportive of the need for one BW.

While many farmers are achieving excellent rates of genetic gain, the genetics experts DairyNZ has worked with through NZAEL believed the industry is not keeping up with overseas competitors. 

“We estimate (based on genomic sire use and genetic merit) over the last decade, that farmers have missed out on $1.36 billion in profit.  By working together, we can achieve this, or more, over the next 10 years,” Van der Poel said.

“That’s why we see improving genetic gain as an important investment by DairyNZ on behalf of all farmers.

“A change as significant as this to our sector has challenges, but we simply cannot ignore this lost opportunity.  Every farmer would benefit from this proposal and we owe it to them to close the gap on our international competitors and improve farm profitability through better rates of genetic gain,” he said.

CRV agreed with DairyNZ’s proposed national animal evaluation concept and the inclusion of genomics, but does not endorse the proposal as it stands.

CRV managing director James Smallwood said the tools are already there for the industry to improve its genetic gain in technology – such as sexed semen, DNA testing of females and utilising herd data.

“Where DairyNZ should be encouraged to spend its time is getting farmers to get the confidence in using those technologies. That is where the market failure exists.”

The dairy industry is well serviced by the systems used by LIC and CRV for genomic evaluation, he said, questioning whether a new BW system might not create even more confusion. 

“Genetic gain – there are a whole raft of building blocks that go into it. Genomic evaluation is only one of those building blocks, but it’s almost been portrayed as the only one you need to worry about.”

He also believed DairyNZ’s criticism of the genetic gains being made within the industry are unfair.

Smallwood said he hopes that one of the outcomes of this consultation is a more open playing field when it comes to publishing a cow’s BW.

“At the moment we can’t publish a cow’s BW. The commercial rights to that are owned by LIC and one of the things we believe should happen is that if there is a national breeding objective then there should be equal rights for everyone that’s producing that.”

BW is only one measure of genetic gain, and he argued that a more holistic view is needed.

“If you look at CRV, we have put in polled genetics, A2, resistance to facial eczema and we are doing methane work. All of these things are outside of BW.”

The dairy companies are also incentivising genetics companies and farmers to look more closely at how milk is produced rather than the milk itself. This is reflected in Synlait’s Lead with Pride and Fonterra’s Co-operative Difference programmes.

“I would argue that things like polled and FE are actually genetic gain,” he said.

LIC chief executive David Chin said while his company can philosophically see the merits in a single BW index, he doubts whether the proposal would meet the industry’s needs.

“It’s unclear, and they have some numbers in there and we have asked how they got to those numbers.”

Chin said farmers using LIC products are exceeding the BW gain goals stated by DairyNZ in the proposal.

“We’re already there. We’re using lots of young genomic sires, there’s a big uptake of them in the NZ farming population, they’re getting all of these rates of genetic gain, so what’s the problem they are trying to solve?”

He also questioned the proposed funding model for the new index.

Alongside the milksolids commodity levy funding that NZAEL receives, fees will also apply for new services for bull and cow owners. These include fees for bull owners for screening and enrolling them with NZAEL.

Cow owners will pay fees for enrolling their cows through herd record providers, and for receiving genomic BW predictions for their cows from NZAEL.

 A straw levy may also be collected to fund additional services in the system.

“If the industry is going to be incurring extra costs, we have to be really careful.

“Dairy farmers in NZ already own a herd improvement co-operative and have invested tens of millions of dollars into genomic technology and we think the rates of genetic gain are going pretty good.”

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