The impact of genetic selection on greenhouse-gas emissions in Australian dairy cattle

Pryce, Jennie and Bell, Matthew J. (2017) The impact of genetic selection on greenhouse-gas emissions in Australian dairy cattle. Animal Production Science . ISSN 1836-5787

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In Australia, dairy cattle account for ~12% of the nation’s agricultural greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions. Genetic selection has had a positive impact, reducing GHG emissions from dairy systems mainly due to increased production per cow, which has led to (1) requiring fewer cows to produce the same amount of milk and (2) lowering emissions per unit of milk produced (emission intensity). The objective of the present study was to evaluate the consequences of previous and current genetic-selection practices on carbon emissions, using realised and predicted responses to selection for key traits that are included in the Australian national breeding objective. A farm model was used to predict the carbon dioxide equivalent (CO₂-eq) emissions per unit change of these traits, while holding all other traits constant. Estimates of the realised change in annual CO₂-eq emissions per cow over the past decade were made by multiplying predicted CO₂-eq emissions per unit change of each trait under selection by the realised rates of genetic gain in each of those traits. The total impact is estimated to be an increase of 55 kg CO₂-eq/cow.year after 10 years of selection. The same approach was applied to future CO₂-eq emissions, except predicted rates of genetic gain assumed to occur over the next decade through selection on the Balanced Performance Index (BPI) were used. For an increase of AU$100 in BPI (~10 years of genetic improvement), we predict that the increase of per cow emissions will be reduced to 37 kg CO₂-eq/cow.year. Since milk-production traits are a large part of the breeding goal, the GHG emitted per unit of milk produced will reduce as a result of improvements in efficiency and dilution of emissions per litre of milk produced at a rate estimated to be 35.7 g CO₂-eq/kg milk solids per year in the past decade and is predicted to reduce to 29.5 g CO₂-eq/kg milk solids per year after a conservative 10-year improvement in BPI (AU$100). In fact, cow numbers have decreased over the past decade and production has increased; altogether, we estimate that the net impact has been a reduction of CO₂-eq emissions of ~1.0% in total emissions from the dairy industry per year. Using two future scenarios of either keeping the number of cows or amount of product static, we predict that net GHG emissions will reduce by ~0.6%/year of total dairy emissions if milk production remains static, compared with 0.3%/year, if cow numbers remain the same and there is genetic improvement in milk-production traits.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Abatement, Climate change, Methane, Nitrous oxide
Schools/Departments: University of Nottingham, UK > Faculty of Science > School of Biosciences
Identification Number: 10.1071/AN16510
Depositing User: Eprints, Support
Date Deposited: 06 Mar 2017 15:43
Last Modified: 01 Apr 2017 07:30

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