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Climate change and broadacre livestock production across southern Australia. 3. Adaptation options via livestock genetic improvement

Climate change and broadacre livestock production across southern Australia. 3. Adaptation options via livestock genetic improvement

Animal Production Science 54(2): 111-124

ISSN/ISBN: 1836-0939

DOI: 10.1071/an13052

Climate change is predicted to reduce the productivity of the broadacre livestock industries across southern Australia; to date there has been no formal evaluation of the potential of genetic improvement in cattle or sheep to ameliorate the impacts of changing climates. We used the GRAZPLAN simulation models to assess selection of five traits of sheep and cattle as adaptation options under the SRES A2 global change scenario. Analysis of the breeding strategies was carried out for 25 representative locations, five livestock enterprises and three future years (2030, 2050, 2070). Uncertainty in future climates was taken into account by considering projected climates from four global circulation models. For three sheep enterprises, breeding for greater fleece growth (at constant body size) was predicted to produce the greatest improvements in forage conversion efficiency, and so it was the most effective genetic adaptation option. For beef cow and steer enterprises, breeding for larger body size was most effective; for beef cows, however, this conclusion relied on per-animal costs (including provision of bulls) remaining stable as body size increases. Increased conception rates proved to be less effective but potentially viable as an adaptation in beef cow and crossbred ewe enterprises. In the southern Australian environments that were analysed, our modelling suggests that breeding for tolerance to heat stress is unlikely to improve the performance of livestock production systems even at 2070. Genetic improvement of livestock was able to recover much less of the impact of climate change on profitability at drier locations where the need for adaptation is likely to be greatest. Combinations of feedbase and livestock genetic adaptations are likely to complement one another as the former alter the amount of forage that can be consumed, while the latter affect the efficiency with which consumed forage is converted to animal products. Climate change impacts on pasture production across southern Australia are likely to have only small effects on methane emissions intensity, as are a range of candidate genetic and feedbase adaptations to climate change; methane emissions per hectare in future climates will therefore be driven mainly by changes in livestock numbers due to alterations in pasture productivity.

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