DNA testing of all cattle in NI as part of a new livestock genetics programme will start in 2026, the chief executive of Sustainable Ruminant Genetics has confirmed.

Speaking at Balmoral Show, John Moore said DNA profiling of cattle, known as genotyping, is needed to build breeding value indexes.

“In January 2026, the planned rollout of genetic testing of all the breeding herd in NI, both dairy and beef, including that year’s calf crop, will begin,” he said.

It is understood that the cost of the first year of DNA testing is to be covered by DAERA. After that, it remains unclear how genotyping of newborn calves from 2027 onwards will be funded.

At present, it costs over £20 to genotype an animal, although the price is expected to reduce as testing becomes more common under the NI-wide scheme.

Participation in the new genetics programme will be a requirement for claiming future support in NI, including the new area-based Farm Sustainability Payment.

Sustainable Ruminant Genetics is an industry led body which has been set up to deliver the long-awaited genetic improvement programme for NI livestock.

Moore said a service provider is to be appointed shortly to build a database for the livestock genetics scheme.

He said the overall aim was to connect “various strands of information” about livestock performance from meat and dairy processors, livestock marts, and farmers.

“This wide range of physical data, whilst combined with the genetic information that we intend to collect, will help set up the reference population that we need for genomic selection to work,” Moore said.

Climate targets

Speaking at the same event, Agriculture Minister Andrew Muir said the new programme will help improve livestock genetics and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from NI agriculture.

“This programme will contribute to our obligations under the Climate Change Act. It is really important that this becomes a fundamental management tool to directly help farm businesses,” he said.

The Alliance Party MLA acknowledged that the initial phase of the ruminant genetics programme is only focused on the beef and dairy sectors.

“It is also desirable to advance genetic improvement in the sheep sector. I am very aware of the concerns around the sheep sector. My officials are continuing to engage with stakeholders to determine industry need,” he said.