Genetic Improvements To Improve Productivity/Farmer Profits

A specialist in human reproductive medicine, Dr. Kini is a serial entrepreneur having founded and invested in several successful IT and healthcare companies.

With the increase in population and economic prosperity, there is an increase in demand for animal proteins. Owing to this, there is an increased pressure on finite resources such as land and water to produce more. Improved productivity is possible with better genetics. Genetic Improvements are the solution to produce more (affordable protein) using less (limited resources such as land and water).

Genetic improvement occurs when the genetic merit is improved through selection.

The improvement in genetic merit refers to the overall improvement in an animal brought about by selection for a number of traits that contribute to the herds breeding objective, such as high growth rate or milk yield, or sex of offspring.

This is especially true for the dairy industry where low productivity leads to unstable revenues and profits for farmers. Although India is the largest producer of milk, milk yield per animal is lower compared to other countries. In order to assure a dairy farmer of profits and revenue, there has to be assured milk yield. This is possible only through genetic gains. Genetics can be controlled through artificial reproductive technologies to ensure high progeny off-springs to farmers. Poor genetics of the herd results in low milk productivity per animal. By the use of new bovine breeding technologies, the herd can see faster genetic gains resulting in a doubling of milk yield and revenue, without much change in costs and input which ultimately leads to improved profits.

In India, there is a large herd of unproductive cattle. (only around 40 percent of bovine animals have milching capacity). These animals are abandoned by farmers which also leads to stray cattle issues. A solution to this issue is using sex-sorted semen doses. Sperm sorting ensures the farmer a female calf, which has higher monetary value than a male calf helping him improve the productivity of his herd. This changes the ratio of productive animals. High merit semen doses (using sperm from progeny tested animals) improve the milk yield of the calf. Both these are examples of genetic gains using reproductive technologies. A cow is impregnated using sorted semen and high merit semen doses through a process known as artificial insemination where the semen is deposited directly into a cow's uterus.

Another reproductive technology, embryos used predominantly everywhere around the world, but still new to India can provide 2.5x more productivity than using artificial insemination because embryos assure 100 percent transfer of superior genetics. Embryo Transfer allows the production of multiple calves through high genetic dams and sires. Embryo Transfer will also help farmers refocus on breed selection, in order to select traits such as better milk productivity, better heat and disease resistance, higher feed conversion ratio. Genetically superior gains will ensure higher profitability to the dairy farmer.

Genetics can be controlled through artificial reproductive technologies to ensure high progeny off-springs to farmers

ET (Embryo Transfer) fertilization process involves sperm infusion into an egg (ovum) to fertilize it. The sperm carries the genetics of the male parent and the ovum genetics of the female parent. The product - embryo obtained through the fertilization process carries the genetics of both the father and the mother. ET has a benefit over AI, as the genetic gain obtained using AI services is only 50 percent whereas through ET the chances of genetic gain become 100 percent in the first progeny. Moreover, embryos produced from sexed semen can also ensure 100 percent genetic gains along with a female offspring.

Genetic technologies can also play an important role in reviving breeds and extinct species and the development of indigenous breeds in India. Apart from breeding, genetic technologies play an important role in raising healthier animals by combatting diseases in animals. For example, gene editing for resistance to foot & mouth disease in livestock in India can alone save 14000 crores in vaccination efforts.

Both sex-sorted semen and In vitro fertilization is expensive technologies, with embryo costing more than 5x more than Artificial Insemination. To ensure that these technologies are widely deployable and affordable, more innovations and industrial-scale production needs to commence in India. For example, a technology known as a synthetic egg can help with the production of embryos in large volumes resulting in a decrease in the cost of production.

Genetic technologies can provide ripple benefits to the economy by creating more jobs such as artificial insemination and embryo transfer technicians, para vets, embryologists, and others. Moreover, rural entrepreneurs can start dairy farms with the promise of assured revenue and low risk. This will further create more jobs on dairy farms and provide extra income for families reliant on agriculture.

Genetics in poultry and aqua are important to create pathogen free species. New genetic technologies such as germ cell transplantation in chicken can help curb the spread of bird flu as well as help in the conservation of species. Advanced breeding with improved genetics will be able to meet the growing demand of aquaculture consumption and double the income of farmers reliant on aquaculture in coastal areas.