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Dr. Michael Lohuis

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Dr. Michael Lohuis – Better genes bring less greenhouse gas

Methane emitted by cattle is a problem greenhouse gas — and some cattle emit more than others. By building new herds through selecting animals which emit less methane, though, greenhouse gas emissions from cattle farms can be significantly reduced. That’s what Dr. Michael Lohuis, vice president of research and innovation for Canadian genetics company Semex, is trying to help Canada’s dairy farmers do. By partnering with university researchers and others from another Canadian dairy company (Lactanet), Lohuis and his colleagues can now rank animals for their genetic ability to reduce methane emissions. This starts with predicting how much methane individual cows emit by analyzing their milk with mid-infrared spectroscopy. It’s a much cheaper and easier way of measuring methane emissions from livestock, compared to the use of specialized methane measuring equipment, and gives farmers the opportunity to build their herd with cows genetically disposed to producing lower methane emissions. “Just by adding this one trait, we could have a significant impact over time. It will just be a breeding goal choice,” says Lohuis. “With continued emphasis, we can eventually reduce methane emissions by 20 to 30 per cent by 2050.” Countries like Canada, the United States, and many European nations, already have very efficient dairy sectors. While incorporating methane emissions into breeding programs will make them even better environmentally, the potential for genetically based emission reductions could have a particularly large impact in countries where dairy consumption is on the rise, but where the dairy industry is less advanced. “Dairy production is growing rapidly in India, Asia, and Africa, but they are not as efficient and produce a lot more methane per litre of milk. We need solutions. We can start improving our systems here; then those technologies can be expanded elsewhere.”