Methane Research Programme

The NZAGRC methane programme is jointly planned and funded in partnership with the PGgRc and aligns with existing MPI programmes funded through SLMACC and New Zealand funding in support of the Global Research Alliance on agricultural greenhouse gases. It aims to reduce emissions by directly targeting the methane producing methanogens through the discovery of small molecule inhibitors and vaccines and indirectly through feeding and changes in animal phenotype. 


  • Breeding: Research to understand the genetics of host control of ruminant methane emissions, which aims to develop genetic and genomic selection technologies to reduce methane yield and intensity in sheep. The current stage of the programme involves the development and dissemination of practical tools for selection for lowered emissions. A major part of maximising impact and uptake is to explore relative economic value from increased production and potential increased feed utilisation associated with lowered methane
  • Vaccine (jointly supported by PGgRc): A prototype vaccine (which after further development is aimed at producing a vaccine targeted at reducing methane emissions in cattle and sheep by 20%) is being formulated with the help of a commercial partner
  • Inhibitors (previously jointly funded but now fully funded by PGgRc): Research to develop cost-effective inhibitors that reduce methane emissions by at least 20% in sheep and cattle—without reducing productivity—is now being developed, with a view to bring the technology to market
  • Modelling: A tool to help scientists in the NZAGRC/PGgRc programme to develop hypotheses and predict responses in methane formation is in its final stages
Current progress and research stories

The current objectives within the NZAGRC methane programme have made significant progress this year, with the sheep breeding programme getting closer to delivering breeding values to the national flock.

1340 John McEwan, Principal Scientist (AgResearch)

John provided further detail about the low methane emitting sheep breeding programme.

There is excellent rationale for this strategy given that for most farmed species (plants and animals) genetics contributes around 50% of the farm system economic improvement. Genetic change is also extremely low cost, permanent and cumulative.

The programme has established low and high emitting sheep lines and studied them intensely. The data shows that methane emissions from the low emitters are heritable and repeatable, with the low emitting sheep having similar or higher productivity, smaller rumens, different rumen microbial communities and lower VFA concentrations in the rumen.

The programme has also investigated different options for measuring animal methane emissions, given than the respiration chamber method is time consuming and expensive. Alternative cheaper and more flexible options have been identified.

The next step for this work is to investigate how best to incorporate the low greenhouse gas trait into the New Zealand sheep industry breeding programmes. The science team will then work on transferring their learnings to dairy cattle and deer.

Download presentation 

  1. pdf 08_McEwan_1340 edited.pdf (1.58MB)

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