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Role Of Genetics In Dairy System Methane Emissions

Calves

Current drivers suggest that environmental impact and system wide efficiency will be a major policy and research priority such as Defra Policy Rationale IS02 (To develop new approaches to agricultural systems which are inherently more environmentally and economically sustainable) and Programme 2 of the ABRG Research Requirements (... deliver high quality primary food products derived from animals... produced in systems that... are environmentally benign).

Effective measures to reduce methane emissions from the dairy industry can only be taken after the environmental impacts of the different current production systems have been quantified. The aim of this project is to examine the role that the dairy cow plays in system methane emissions, examining the genetic and nutritional effects. The project will consider methods of predicting energy wastage (methane emissions) from individual animals and express energy wasted from the system as a function of energy output/kg milk/cow.

This will build on the detailed analysis of information available from the long-running genotype*environment Langhill/Crichton experiment. Information from these analyses will be used in a whole-farm model to examine the role the animal (genetic and nutrition) plays in the overall system efficiency. A whole-farm model will be used to help develop methods of incorporating environmental components (i.e., methane emissions) in dairy breeding programme design.

Whilst selection using broader breeding goals will lead to a reduction of environmental pollution due to increased survival, understanding the mechanisms of this selection will allow accurate prediction of total methane output. This initial examination of the genetics and nutrition on environmental impact and the flip side of biological efficiency will highlight potential future avenues of development at national level. If successful this work could be developed to produce tools for farmers to select the best "environmental" bull for their specific type of system, from the most restricted (low soil nutrient use, poor forage quality) to the intensive system (zero grazing, high concentrates use).

Funders - Scottish Government and SRUC Trust Funds

Prof Bob Rees

Professor of Agriculture & Climate Change / Head of Carbon Management Centre

Address: Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), Peter Wilson Building, Kings Buildings, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JG.

Telephone: 0131 535 4365

E-mail: bob.rees@sruc.ac.uk

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