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.

What are portable accumulation chambers

HOW THEY WORK
Commonly, these are a sheepsized transparent polycarbonate box suspended above a race. When a sheep walks into the race, the chamber is lowered over it and the sheep is held inside for about 30 minutes. Air samples are taken during this time and the methane concentration is analysed.

WHY DO IT
Portable chambers may be a useful method for screening a larger number of animals to identify naturally low methane emitting individuals. They allow large numbers of animals to be screened in a short period of time. This speeds up the animal selection process and provides more low-emitting animals from which to breed the next generation. Keeping the breeding pool large avoids restricting opportunities for general genetic improvements in the herd/flock.

CHALLENGES
Portable chambers are not as accurate as respiration chambers as they only give a brief snapshot of an animal’s emissions and are still an artificial environment. It is important to achieve an airtight seal so that all methane produced by the animal can be measured. Intake is also not known accurately if used with grazing animals.

More reading
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Reducing New Zealand's agricultural emissions: How we measure emissions (edition 2)

 

 


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