Govt contributes $16.7m to breeding partnership to beef up cattle productivity while abating the gas emissions

More spending for science has been announced by the government and another partnership has been established to do the work.  This time the aim is to tackle the climate-change challenge.

The Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund is contributing $6.68 million to a $16.7 million genetics programme, which aims

  • to have productivity benefits, thereby creating a competitive advantage for New Zealand beef, and
  • to lower the beef sector’s greenhouse gas emissions by delivering cows “with a smaller environmental hoof-print”.

Informing New Zealand Beef is a seven-year partnership with Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said.

But we wont necessarily see the hoped-for results within that time span.  Rather, O’Connor says this work

“… is expected to result in more efficient cows within the next 25 years”.

The programme is targeting a 10 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of product produced.

The announcement has been posted on The Beehive website, along with the appointment of a former Minister to a job as chair of the NZ Qualifications Authority and three announcements related to Covid -19.

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In his press statement on the genetics programme in his agricultural bailiwick, Damien O’Connor says the cows most suited to New Zealand’s production systems will be moderate in size, but still highly productive.

“Moderate sized cows which require less feed will help to lower the impact on soils and produce less methane. 

“To date we’ve relied on an Australian beef genetics framework, but the time is right to create our own programme tailored to New Zealand conditions.”

O’Connor recalled that more than 20 years ago our livestock industry developed New Zealand specific dairy and sheep genetics programmes, which have led to exponential gains in productivity.

But the genetic gain for beef has lagged behind the other livestock industries.  Breeding cattle specifically for New Zealand conditions will give the beef industry the same opportunity to excel, O’Connor says. 

The new genetics programme will use Artificial Insemination and genomic selection to identify the bulls with the best genetic markers earlier in their life, and with greater accuracy.

Farmers will be provided with tools to capture data and inform breeding decisions, with training available throughout the programme to ensure the tools developed are fit for purpose and used widely in the industry.

The environmental focus of this programme in particular complements something cumbersomely called “our Fit for a Better World: Accelerating Our Economic Potential Roadmap”.

The roadmap, O’Connor explains,

 “… sits behind every action we take in the food and fibre sector – whether it’s creating new high value products, research and innovation, new environmental initiatives, or growing the skills and capability of our people.

“Soon farmers will be able to breed herds according to the landscape they are in, whether it’s flat land or hill country.”

O’Connor referenced industry modelling which shows introducing a beef genetics programme specific to New Zealand could increase profit by $460 million over a 25-year period.

As the Government looks to all sectors to pull their weight with the Emissions Reduction Plan, this project forms an important component of the primary industries’ response to climate change, O’Connor said.

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