Increasing feed efficiency and reducing methane emissions through genomics: A new promising goal for the Canadian dairy industry (2014)


Bioproducts & Environment

he Canadian dairy industry adds $16.2 billion to Canadian GDP each year (2011 figures). That figure is forecast to increase as international demand for dairy products grows in the coming years, due to growing middle classes in emerging economies, demand for high-quality milk proteins in developing countries and world population expansion more generally. That figure can also grow (by an estimated $100 million annually) by improving two key traits in dairy cattle: their ability to convert feed into increased milk production and a reduction in their methane emissions (methane being a powerful greenhouse gas). Dr. Filippo Miglior of the University of Guelph and Dr. Paul Stothard of the University of Alberta are leading a team that will use genomics-­based approaches to select for cattle with the genetic traits needed for more efficient feed conversion and lower methane emissions. To date, it has been both difficult and expensive to collect the data required for such selection. The latest genomic approaches and the award-winning phenotyping platform developed by Growsafe in Alberta offer an opportunity to address these problems and collect and assess the required data to carry out the selection. The results of this project will assist dairy farmers and the industry more broadly to develop cattle that will carry these two important traits. Farmers will save money (as feed is the single largest expense in milk production), while the international competitiveness of Canada’s dairy industry will increase. The environmental footprint of the dairy industry will also be reduced, in part due to lower methane emissions, but also because more feed efficient animals produce less manure waste. Broad application of the project’s findings will be enhanced by the involvement of several industry organizations and international research partners in the project, not only benefiting Canada’s dairy industry, but also contributing to global food security and  sustainability.