Animal breeding essential in meeting climate change targets – CEO

Animal breeding programs will be at the core of agriculture’s efforts to meet its climate change targets over the next decade and beyond.

But as Larry Burke, Ai Services (Northern Ireland) Ltd’s new group CEO, also confirmed, these targets can be met without foregoing the animal production-related improvements achieved up to this point.

He also emphasized the commitment of Ai Services, as a farmer-owned business with 2,500 shareholders, to be at the forefront in supporting producers with breeding solutions to meet the challenges of the future.

“Animal breeding programs can respond to the changing needs of agriculture within a very short period of time,” Burke said.

“Recent years have seen dramatic improvements achieved in terms of animal performance, all driven by enhanced animal breeding standards.

“Where dairy is concerned, an initial focus was placed on milk production. The emphasis was then switched to butterfat and, subsequently, to milk protein levels,” he continued.

Burke explained that improving fertility rates among cattle populations has been a major challenge for the industry, and technology is playing a key role in driving improvements in this aspect of cattle breeding.

“Breeding more fertile cows, that provide the option of voluntary culling, therefore requiring less replacements, will greatly help in the reduction of methane emissions.”

According to Burke all of these performance-related advances have been achieved on a cumulative basis.

Larry Burke

Breeding

“And the same principle will hold when it comes to identifying those bloodlines that inherently produce lower amounts of methane and other greenhouse gases [GHG],” Burke said.

He said that such strategic breeding target can be met without having to relinquish any of the performance and efficiency drivers that have been secured within cattle populations over many years.

Looking to the future, the Ai Services representative also pointed to the need to identify animal populations with superior health traits.

“There is sufficient variation within all animal populations to make this a reality,” he stressed.

“What’s more, the ever faster rate of technological advancement will allow these breeding-related breakthroughs to be achieved within a relatively short period of time.

“We [Ai Services] are unique in sourcing the best dairy genetics from our industry partners in North America and Europe and our close relationship with the Livestock Improvement Company in New Zealand, or LIC, gives us access to some of the top grassland based genetics in the world.

“As the majority shareholder in Eurogene in the Republic of Ireland our business also has an all-island dimension and we are currently the fastest growing animal breeding business within the Irish market,” he added.

New role as CEO

Larry Burke takes up his new position with a 30-year track record within the international animal breeding sector behind him.

A native of Co. Wicklow, he was brought up on the family dairy farm.

“I was given the opportunity to make animal breeding decisions at home from an early age,” he explained.

“This gave me the interest in genetics, which I was able to develop upon starting out on a career in farm management.

“Subsequent to this, I made the decision to travel. By doing this I secured first-hand experience of the cattle breeding programs developed in North America,” he added.

Prior to taking on his new role, Larry Burke had been general manager of Eurogene AI Services, based in Co. Tipperary, for the previous eight years.

He is confident that the farming industry will meet its climate change targets. But he makes the point that the journey ahead is one that must also involve the general public.

“Consumers must be kept fully in the loop, where farm management changes and the introduction of new technologies are concerned,” he commented.

“If they don’t buy-in to what agriculture is doing, there will be no future for the industry.”

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