A novel, comprehensive genetic and management initiative to reduce the environmental impact of New Zealand dairy cattle

Mark David Camara

Abstract


Between 1990 and 2012, the rapid expansion of pastoral dairy farming in New Zealand contributed to a 29% increase in nitrogen leaching from farms to waterways. In 2014, central government mandated that regional councils develop water quality targets and impose new regulations resulting in intense pressure to reduce the environmental impact of dairy farming that threatens the industry’s social license to operate. Nitrogen leaching features prominently in this new regulatory regime, and some groups advocate reducing the numbers of cattle to meet the new targets.

DairyNZ and its genetic evaluation subsidiary, New Zealand Animal Evaluation Limited, have formed a partnership between the New Zealand Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment, commercial breeding companies, research institutes, universities, and milk processors, to provide the industry with genetic and genomic estimates of genetic merit for urinary nitrogen excretion in dairy cattle and with practical strategies to shift the NZ national dairy herd toward low nitrogen excreting genetics. It will couple these genetic benefits with management-based solutions such as alternative pasture plants and crops, and produce benefits for the beef industry because ~65% New Zealand beef production is from stock derived from dairy cows,

An integrated strategy explicitly acknowledges that even the best genetics and farm systems science can only contribute to meeting societally-driven demands for sustainability if the benefits are rigorously demonstrated, regulators have credible tools to evaluate its impacts, and practical and economic barriers to adoption and implementation are recognized and minimized.


Keywords


Urinary nitrogen, selective breeding, environmental impact, environmental regulation, social license

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