Informing NZ Beef

April 2022

A $16.7 million partnership between Beef + Lamb New Zealand and MPI’s Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures Fund.

Kiwi beef farmers will soon be able to breed animals that are better suited to New Zealand’s farming conditions and environment, thanks to the Informing New Zealand Beef genetics programme now underway. It is a $16.7 million partnership between Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ), and MPI’s Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures Fund. The signing of the seven-year partnership between B+LNZ and the government is, effectively, a coming of age for our beef sector.


Although highly successful in growing premium pasture-raised beef, to date, Kiwi beef farmers have not had the tools to focus on uniquely New Zealand farm systems, relying instead on overseas genetics tools. 


Providing New Zealand farmers with the ability to breed animals better suited to this country, the Informing New Zealand Beef (IBNZ) genetics programme is a joint $16.7 million investment being made by B+LNZ and the Ministry for Primary Industries via the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures Fund.


B+LNZ’s general manager farming excellence, Dan Brier, says IBNZ will see a New Zealand-specific genetic evaluation, which will ultimately result in more efficient beef animals that generate fewer greenhouse gases (the target is for a 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of product produced) and are more profitable.


“This new evaluation is ground-breaking, directly comparing bulls of different breeds so that New Zealand farmers will be able to pick the best bull for their farming system and environment, irrespective of its breed. As well as being centred on an Australian evaluation, currently here in New Zealand evaluation is breed-based, which makes genetic selection unnecessarily complicated and not as effective for farmers.”


He says building on the skills and knowledge developed in our world-leading sheep genetic evaluation and previous work such as the B+LNZ genetics beef progeny test, IBNZ will equip farmers to confidently select the right genetics for their farm system and environment. “Through IBNZ, we will develop new traits to help address not only current concerns around the environment, as well as animal welfare, but also concerns and opportunities arising in the future.”   


The programme will generate more income for beef producers and the New Zealand economy, with estimates showing there is potential to boost the sector’s profits by $460 million over the next 25 years. The gains will come from all aspects of beef production but especially from improving what has been hard to measure genetically – e.g. maternal type traits.


Dan says it is already understood that the beef cattle best suited to New Zealand’s production systems are those that are moderate in size, but still highly productive. “Moderate-sized animals have a lower impact on our soils and, because they require less feed than a larger animal, they also produce less methane.”


He says the time is right to create a beef genetics programme tailored to New Zealand conditions. “More than 20 years ago our livestock industry developed New Zealand-specific dairy and sheep genetics programmes and this has led to exponential gains in productivity for these sectors. The genetic gain for beef has lagged behind dairy and sheep, so breeding cattle specifically for New Zealand conditions and farming systems will now give the beef sector the same opportunity to excel.”


The IBNZ programme will use artificial insemination and genomic selection to identify bulls with the best genetic markers earlier in their life and with greater accuracy.


Farmers will have the tools to capture data and inform their breeding decisions, with IBNZ providing training and updates as the programme progresses. 


Dan adds that Kiwi dairy farmers will also stand to benefit significantly from IBNZ by being able to select beef bulls that will produce more valuable dairy-beef calves, as well as selecting for shorter gestation and easy calving.


Wairarapa farmer and B+LNZ director, George Tatham, says it will be great for farmers to be able to use genetics to help address some of the environmental challenges coming their way. 


“This project will support farmers to quickly and easily select the right genetics for their farm system, their breeding objectives and their environment, which can only be a good thing.


“Breeders will also be able to benchmark their bulls across breeds used in the New Zealand commercial industry.


“Commercial farmers will be able to participate in the programme as well, with information collected from animals on farms like ours feeding through the evaluation and back to our breeders. That means the breeders will have more data to base their breeding decisions on.”