MSU nets $5 million grant to increase dairy production efficiency

As human populations increase and available arable land decreases, agricultural systems are under pressure to produce more food more efficiently.

MSU AgBioResearch, Mike VandeHaarAs human populations increase and available arable land decreases, agricultural systems are under pressure to produce more food more efficiently.

MSU AgBioResearch scientist Mike VandeHaar believes that breeding dairy cows that produce milk with less feed can help meet this goal.

“We already know how to get cows to produce more than 100 pounds of milk a day – we have the science to be able to do that,” said VandeHaar, professor in the MSU Department of Animal Science. “Our question now is whether some cows are genetically predisposed to produce that milk with less feed. If we find that feed efficiency is inherent in a cow’s DNA, it will improve our ability to sustainably produce the milk and dairy products that our growing population consumes.”

VandeHaar is project director of a team of MSU researchers that will use a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to increase the efficiency and sustainability of milk production by:

  • Educating future leaders, voters and consumers about key practices in dairy husbandry that promote feed efficiency and sustainability.
  • Developing a feed efficiency database on 8,000 genomically characterized Holstein cows.
  • Determining the genetic architecture of feed efficiency and building a foundation for genomic selection of more efficient animals.
  • Developing and implementing genomic breeding tools to produce cows with enhanced feed efficiency.
  • Developing and implementing practical support tools to improve whole-herd feed efficiency.

“We are excited about this USDA grant program,” VandeHaar said. “Improving stewardship of resources in the dairy industry has been a lifelong passion of mine. If we’re going to eat animal products and feed more people, we have to do it more efficiently.”

Increasing efficiency of milk production can help improve stewardship of the planet, VandeHaar said.

“Projects like this are critically important to our planet,” he said. “If we can’t figure out efficient ways to feed 9 billion people in the next 40 years, we will have hungry people, political unrest and no place left for native ecosystems because we’ll be using those lands to grow food.”

Additional MSU team members are AgBioResearch animal scientists Dave Beede, Richard Pursley, Rob Tempelman and Miriam Weber  Nielsen.  Also contributing to the project are researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Iowa State University, Wageningen UR in The Netherlands, the University of Florida, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

The grant was awarded through the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative and is administered through NIFA.

Photo: MSU AgBioResearch scientist, Mike VandeHaar

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