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.

Methane emissions from bison-An historic herd estimate for the North American Great Plains

Kelliher, F. M., & Clark, H. (2010). Methane emissions from bison-An historic herd estimate for the North American Great Plains. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 150(3), 473-477.

Enteric methane (CH4) emissions were estimated from 30 M bison (Bison bison) across the North American Great Plains before contact with European settlers. We compiled the first historic emissions inventory using an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Tier 2 method. The emissions were governed by the energy requirements for grazing, growth and reproduction. A sex/age distribution accounted for the net effect of births, development and deaths. The CH4 yield was based on calorimeter measurements. The average bison's weight, feed (dry matter, DM) intake and emissions were 411 kg, 3.4 t DM head−1 year−1 and 72 kg CH4 head−1 year−1, respectively. The historic herd's emissions were 2.2 Tg CH4 year−1. On 1 January 2008, 36.5 M cattle were located in 10 American states occupying the historic bison range. Cattle emissions were 2.5 Tg CH4 year−1, estimated using an IPCC Tier 1 method, adjusted by comparison with a mechanistic model and food gathering energy required by 77% of the cattle fed by grazing.

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