Gene editing and genomics are breeding tools that will help the dairy industry adapt and thrive, according to World Wide Sires and Select Sires director of global training Joel Mergler.
Mr Mergler spoke in the 2020 Genetics Australia online conference, where he challenged dairy farmers to shed old ideas and practices, to ensure dairy farming could adjust to future challenges.
“Genomics is the biggest change that can keep our industry relevant,” he said.
“It opened the book for us to be able to see inside an animal and change that population in a very short time.”
Using polled genetics as an example, Mr Mergler said if the dairy industry was no longer permitted to remove horns from animals, genomics could quickly introduce polled genes.
Mr Mergler said the dairy industry faced many challenges including climate change, increased efficiency and animal activist threats, and that maintaining relevance as an industry could mean breeding animals that neutralise these concerns.
He said breeding selection for feed efficiency and longevity, and environmental issues such as nitrate, phosphate and methane output, would be included in future genetic selection.
“There’s a huge opportunity and we need to dig into and understand more about epigenetics — where genes get turned on and turned off.
“We will have to continue to learn and understand how genes are really working.
“We are really just scratching the surface now.”
Mr Mergler said gene editing could be a tool to bring the slick gene into the Holstein cow, to improve heat tolerance.
“But a lot of this isn’t going to be the technology holding us back, as much as the consumer perspective,” he said.
“A lot of these things we won’t know until we get into the future to know whether these tools are going to be available for us.”