LIC chief executive Wayne McNee says; “Genomics helps up predict which bulls will breed better. And it helps us do it more quickly. That means farmers can breed from a bull when he is younger.
“Traditionally we’ve had to wait until a bull has had daughters before we know how good he is. With genomics you can tell from before a bull is born whether he will be good. That means you can start using him as a sire as soon as he is mature. And you can use the first to sire other predictable bulls. This accelerates the rates of genetic gain quite significantly.”
Using genomics takes about three years off the normal bull breeding cycle. McNee says on top of that benefit there is the knowledge the bull’s sons will also be able to start breeding within a year.
New Zealand agribusiness is making huge strides with projects like LIC’s genomics programme. We are starting to see huge payoffs.
This kind of genetics work is essential. LIC recognises that the environmental impact of dairy herds needs to be addressed. It is doing this in a number of ways, developing cows that cause less greenhouse gases is one goal, another is to breed more efficient cows so we can maintain milk output while reducing the total size of the national herd.
As McNee says: “If we are going to have fewer cows, we need to make sure the ones we have are better.”
I’ve never ceased to be fascinated by what is possible with agritech. In some respects the sector is hitting its stride now, in much the same way digital technology hit its stride in the 1980s. Every year brings significant advances.