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.

Greenhouse gas awareness of livestock's contribution to emissions rises among farmers

More farmers are aware of the impact of livestock on global warming, says an agricultural greenhouse research expert.

New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre director Dr Harry Clark said farmer awareness of their greenhouse gas contribution was at a much higher level than 15 years ago.

This extended to growing recognition of international agreement to cut greenhouse gases, such as the Paris agreement, he said.

"There is growing awareness now of the unusual greenhouse gas profile here, dominated by agriculture," he told about 150 people at the recent mitigation of greenhouse gas conference in Palmerston North. "To meet our international commitments, we have to think carefully about what we do with the agricultural sector. I think 15 years ago, you wouldn't have seen that awareness."
 
However, other than more efficient production, greenhouse mitigation on New Zealand farms was years away, Clark said.

"Worldwide in general in the developed world people are more aware, but in very poor countries they have other things to think about, such as food supply and food safety."

The research centre was funded by the Government and overseas investment. Clark said it would be true to say that politicians were also more engaged.

Farmer awareness in developing nations often centred on how to adapt to climate change such as coping with more rain or more desert, rather than halting greenhouse gas production, he said.

"But in New Zealand, we have these strong international agreements, on reducing climate change."

He said many emissions in the US and Europe came from industrial plants, such as power plants and from cars.

"You can get electric cars, and cleaner plants and a lot of those emissions will come down. Then unfortunately the focus will go on agriculture."

To get emissions down so global warming was 2 degrees Celsius or less, carbon dioxide emissions would have to hit zero this century, he said.

"Once you tackle those gases, then the proportion of gases change, and greater emphasis comes on agriculture."

Animals produce methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide. "Really, to tackle global warming, and keeping it to less than 2 degrees, we have to tackle carbon dioxide and the other gases need to be addressed, too."

That needed to happen against the backdrop of another two or three billion people added to the world population - and that scenario was scary, he said. 

MAKING CHANGES

Agriculture could make changes, Clark said. "The sectors have talked about efficiency, for instance, the sheep and beef industry saying it produces the same amount of meat with far less animals and fewer emissions.  

"[However] That only takes us so far. Then we need new technology." New Zealand's grass-based system was one of the most difficult to find greenhouse gas mitigation systems, Clark said.

"If you have animals indoors, and you are feeding them every day, then there are things you can do, such as manipulate the feed, and there are some compounds coming. But these you have to feed every day.  How do you do that to a sheep on the hillside? It is hard for an extensive system."

Clark said New Zealand's immediate priority was to increase efficiency.

​"We need to do more research to develop new technologies. It is difficult to say when they will come along, but what we can say is very good progress has been made on the experimental side. However, then to go from experimental to something that works on farm and is available commercially, takes a number of years."

He said technology had to meet regulatory values and the nitrification inhibitor dicyandiamide, known as DCD and recalled from shelves in 2003, was a salutary lesson. 

"It has to be safe for people - have no residues, and safe for animals."


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