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A methodology framework for weighting genetic traits that impact greenhouse gas emission intensities in selection indexes

  • P. R. Amer (a1), F. S. Hely (a1), C. D. Quinton (a1) and A. R. Cromie (a2)


A methodological framework was presented for deriving weightings to be applied in selection indexes to account for the impact genetic change in traits will have on greenhouse gas emissions intensities (EIs). Although the emission component of the breeding goal was defined as the ratio of total emissions relative to a weighted combination of farm outputs, the resulting trait-weighting factors can be applied as linear weightings in a way that augments any existing breeding objective before consideration of EI. Calculus was used to define the parameters and assumptions required to link each trait change to the expected changes in EI for an animal production system. Four key components were identified. The potential impact of the trait on relative numbers of emitting animals per breeding female first has a direct effect on emission output but, second, also has a dilution effect from the extra output associated with the extra animals. Third, each genetic trait can potentially change the amount of emissions generated per animal and, finally, the potential impact of the trait on product output is accounted for. Emission intensity weightings derived from this equation require further modifications to integrate them into an existing breeding objective. These include accounting for different timing and frequency of trait expressions as well as a weighting factor to determine the degree of selection emphasis that is diverted away from improving farm profitability in order to achieve gains in EI. The methodology was demonstrated using a simple application to dairy cattle breeding in Ireland to quantify gains in EI reduction from existing genetic trends in milk production as well as in fertility and survival traits. Most gains were identified as coming through the dilution effect of genetic increases in milk protein per cow, although gains from genetic improvements in survival by reducing emissions from herd replacements were also significant. Emission intensities in the Irish dairy industry were estimated to be reduced by ~5% in the last 10 years because of genetic trends in production, fertility and survival traits, and a further 15% reduction was projected over the next 15 years because of an observed acceleration of genetic trends.


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