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Breakthrough genetics looking at cutting nitrogen leaching

Media release

Embargoed to 9am 29 March 2017

Breakthrough genetics looking at cutting nitrogen leaching by 20% in NZ - CRV Ambreed

CRV Ambreed has made a genetic discovery that it anticipates will result in a more sustainable dairy industry and potentially reduce nitrogen leaching on New Zealand farms by 20% within 20 years.

In what’s thought to be an international first, the dairy herd improvement company has announced it will market bulls that are desirable for traditional traits as well as being genetically superior for a new trait that is related to urea nitrogen in milk.

CRV Ambreed is now selling semen from bulls whose daughters will have reduced concentration of Milk Urea Nitrogen (MUN) under a LowN Sires™ brand. MUN is a measure of the amount of nitrogen contained as milk urea, and CRV Ambreed R&D Manager Phil Beatson says there’s overwhelming international evidence of a direct connection between MUN and the amount of nitrogen excreted in urine when fed different diets.

“If this connection carries over, cows bred for lower levels of MUN are expected to excrete less nitrogen in their urine which will, in turn, reduce the amount of nitrogen leached from grazed pasture,” Mr Beatson says. “Daughters of CRV Ambreed’s 2017 LowN Sires™ could potentially save New Zealand 10 million kilograms in nitrogen leaching a year, based on a national herd number of 6.5 million dairy cattle.” He says CRV Ambreed’s projections indicate that it’s possible to breed cattle that will reduce nitrogen leaching by 20% within 20 years.

CRV Ambreed Managing Director Angus Haslett says the firm has been researching the connection between MUN and nitrogen in urine for five years. “The link between MUN and lower nitrogen output has been acknowledged before in international research, but this is the first time in the world that genetics for low MUN is being marketed with the aim being to reduce nitrogen leaching.”

Hundreds of thousands of straws of semen from a team of more than 20 existing top-performing bulls with desirable genetic makeup for low levels of MUN, known as LowN Sires™, are already available for use in 2017.

Mr Haslett says this is a continuation of CRV Ambreed’s ongoing work to breed for particular traits that improve New Zealand’s dairy herds for health and environmental reasons. “The future is about using genetics for better breeding and CRV Ambreed has been operating in the future for some time. Farmers are already using genetics to breed cows that are more tolerant to Facial Eczema and for breeding polled calves that will not need costly and time-consuming de-budding.”

He says while there is a vast amount of research being conducted and proposed in New Zealand to mitigate nitrogen leaching, it makes sense to look at breeding cows that produce less nitrogen from economic and environmental viewpoints. CRV Ambreed will be the first organisation in New Zealand and possibly the world to provide a long-term genetic solution to nitrogen leaching by identifying and selecting bulls for low MUN genes.

“Genetics can produce great gains for farmers,” he says. “Farmers already choose CRV Ambreed bulls to breed certain traits in their cows, so this is another step on that journey of finding solutions in genetics.”

Mr Haslett says there is still research to be done to further test and confirm the genetic development and CRV is working with DairyNZ, AgResearch and Lincoln University on this. CRV Ambreed is very positive about the potential benefits the discovery will deliver for farmers and the nation.

The genetic announcement has been welcomed by major industry players such as DairyNZ. DairyNZ Strategy and Investment Leader for Productivity, Dr Bruce Thorrold, says the potential for farmers to reduce nitrogen leaching by breeding cows with lower urinary nitrogen output is exciting.

“If the planned science proves the link between breeding for MUN and urinary nitrogen output, this would give farmers in nitrogen-limited regions such as Canterbury more options to reduce nitrogen leaching without going away from a pasture-based system. Animal breeding would potentially add to gains from DairyNZ investment in research on managing nitrogen inputs, using stand-off and finding plants with lower nitrogen content.”

CRV Ambreed has already briefed some of New Zealand’s regional councils about the discovery as many regional councils are working with farmers to minimise nitrogen leaching.

For more information, visit

About CRV Ambreed:

CRV Ambreed has an overarching ethos of “better cows, better life” and its business is built around one goal: helping its customers achieve their highest performing herd possible. The company proactively manages ongoing changing market demands by offering innovative solutions tailored to customers’ needs.


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