$21 million research collaboration to improve waterways by breeding cows with reduced nitrogen in their urine

The dairy sector has welcomed the Government’s announcement it will invest alongside farmers in a seven-year $21 million research partnership that will boost the current effort to clean up rural waterways.

Minister of Business, Innovation and Employment, Dr Megan Woods, has confirmed MBIE will provide $8.4 million towards the project which aims to tackle the difficult nitrogen leaching question, nitrogen being one of the nutrients impacting water quality.

A further $11.5 million will be invested by dairy farmers through the levy they pay to DairyNZ, with additional funding support to make up the $21 million coming from CRV Ambreed and Fonterra.

The new research project is based on breeding cattle with lower levels of nitrogen in their urine.

DairyNZ will lead the project with some of the best scientists in the country in the team researchers from DairyNZ, Abacus Bio, A. L. Rae Centre for Genetics and Animal Breeding, AgResearch and Lincoln University.

DairyNZ’s strategy and investment leader, Dr Bruce Thorrold, says ‘it is fantastic that the new Government is committing to this partnership with the dairy sector’.

He says the project is of major importance in dairy’s drive to lower its environmental footprint, and will be based on large-scale research involving thousands of cows on farms around the country to test the effectiveness of breeding and measure the reduction of nitrogen leaching expected by the change – potentially up to a 20 percent reduction.

“Equally, it is important to the beef and sheep sectors where animals raised for meat also contribute to nitrogen levels. Beef farmers will be able to rear low nitrogen beef cattle bred from dairy herds.

“Better options to reduce nitrogen levels in our food farming gives choices for our rural communities in that they can achieve environmental gains and maintain local businesses – it’s very much a win-win.”

Dr Thorrold says farmers are determined to solve nutrient loss challenge.

“Dairy farmers are already well on the journey with fencing off waterways, cutting-edge effluent management systems and clever on-farm innovation. It’s a further step towards sustainable dairying, and will continue keep us as world leaders in this space.

“As we’ve said, this is not something farmers can achieve alone, so we’re very excited about this significant sector partnership with Government, and science and commercial collaborators.”