Genetics the sustainable option

Mar 4, 2024

Jennie Pryce will lead a discussion on sustainability and resilience at the GA Conference

Visitors to the Genetics Australia 2024 Today, Tomorrow and Beyond conference in Geelong on March 18-19 will learn how genetics hold the key to a sustainable farming future.

Agriculture Victoria Research Director of Genomics and Cellular Sciences, Professor Jennie Pryce, will lead a panel discussion on breeding for sustainability and resilience and says genetics are leading the way to a greener future.

The panel will feature an ensemble of researchers from Agriculture Victoria to present a diverse range of topics relating to sustainability and resilience.

Professor Pryce leads a team responsible for delivering genetic improvement tools to the dairy industry and she says there is a fantastic story from the major investment by the dairy industry to help farmers and there are more achievements on the horizon.

“Everything we do culminates in a breeding value that DataGene releases for dairy farmers to use,” Jennie said.

DataGene is responsible for driving genetic gain and herd improvement in the Australian dairy industry, via research, development and extension.

“Agriculture Victoria developed the Heat Tolerance breeding value in 2017 and is working on an update to that which, all going well, will become available for farmers this year.”

“Agriculture Victoria are also using more data and robust information to identify cows that are tolerant to hot and humid conditions and evaluating the reduction in yield as temperatures and humidity increase.”

The team also did the research behind the Sustainability Index which includes extra weighting on green traits; such as feed efficiency, milk production and longevity.

“What Agriculture Victoria is trying to do here is identify the cows that are better converters of feed into milk, which reduces methane emissions because they’re using the feed more efficiently. Also, if they have a more productive life, you need fewer non-producing animals and that means your overall farm footprint is lower. That’s the first step in breeding for sustainability directly by trying to reduce methane emissions.”

Jennie says Australia’s dairy industry is already well placed and its farmers are keen adopters of progressive traits.

“Farmers selecting for efficient and productive cows, which has been going on for many decades now, has actually meant lower emission per litre produced. This will give us more of an edge to drive down emissions faster.”

She says the push is even stronger now, and farmers are embracing the challenge. “We’re developing traits that farmers like anyway. Farmers are using the Sustainability Index because they want cows that are better converters of feed into milk and also live longer. It’s a win-win situation.”

The team’s next priority is to measure methane emissions directly from individual cows.

“The Sustainability Index will get us part-way to the zero emissions goal by 2050 and genetics are obviously the long-term sustainable option for farmers and for the environment,” Jennie said.

“It’s going to take a lot of investment to get individual cow methane measures but we are living in a time where we’ve got genomic selection which will enable us to achieve that.

“Agriculture Victoria want to measure methane emissions on individual cows and marry that to genomic data. As long as you’ve got enough individuals with genetic markers and methane measurements, you could develop a breeding value for methane emissions.

Jennie said that Australia has a well-established team to tackle the issues as part of a huge collaborative global movement. “We’re not working in isolation, which is really positive, globally we’re trying to solve this together.”

Jennie added that farmers and the dairy industry needed to remain proactive. “The sticks aren’t there yet but this is an opportunity for farmers to get on the front foot and prepare the herd for the future.

The panel also includes:

  • Christy van der Jagt, Senior research scientist and leader of Green Cow project, “Green Cow” overview
  • Fazel Almasi, Research Scientist of Green Cow project: Using sensors to combat climate change – improving feed efficiency and reducing emissions
  • Laura Jensen, PhD student at DairyBio: Using sensors to combat climate change – resilience to heat
  • Boris Sepulveda, PhD student at DairyBio: Reducing methane emissions using the microbiome.


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