Listening to some of the headline speakers at the AgriSearch conference on Tuesday, it is clear there is a lot of expectation around what the new Sustainable Ruminant Genetics (SRG) initiative can do for future livestock production in NI.
In his concluding remarks at the conference, former AFBI chief executive, Dr Sinclair Mayne referred to recent comments made by Prof Donagh Berry from Teagasc where he suggested cattle breeding could potentially deliver a 25% reduction in methane emissions by 2050.
The point Prof Berry makes is that research shows some sires have higher methane emissions than others, so breeding programmes can select out those that shouldn’t be used. In addition, beef sires that deliver faster growth rates will automatically breed cattle that reach slaughter at younger ages, meaning lifetime emissions are lower.
If a 25% cut in methane from livestock could be achieved, it would certainly be very significant in the overall race to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The alternative ways to cut methane are less attractive, given they either involve reducing livestock numbers or pursuing the inclusion of additives in feed that inhibit the production of methane in the rumen. As well as being an on-going cost, these additives are difficult to include in diets when ruminants are at grass.
The example from Teagasc highlights just one of the ways in which a new livestock genetics programme in NI can have a positive impact.
But even if we just take a very simple example of a suckler farm finishing all their own cattle.
In practice, some steers will be ready at 19 months, while others won’t be finished until 24 months.
The cows are all the same breed and only one stock bull is used – there is genetic variation, which if it can be identified and corrected, will fundamentally change the economics on this farm.
It is very early days for SRG and there will be plenty of bumps along the road. But ultimately it is the right thing to do. See page 8.