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 micro-meteorological techniques for measuring methane?

Other methane measurement techniques provide estimates of emissions from individual animals. This raises the question whether the animals that have been measured are representative of average emissions coming from an entire herd over long periods of time.

Micro-meteorological techniques seek to address thi squestion directly, by measuring wind speed, direction and turbulence, as well as the concentration of methane in the air downwind from a flock of sheep or herd of cattle. These data are used to calculate the amount of methane generated by all livestock in a paddock.

WHY DO IT

One challenge for estimating total emissions across the country is the large variability between animals, and the high cost of
measuring individual animals. Only a relatively small number of animals can be measured individually, so estimates for an entire flock/herd or for the country as a whole have to make assumptions about typical emission rates per animal.

Paddock-scale measurements can be useful in checking whether measurements from individual animals can be multiplied to
represent emissions from a group of animals under typical farm
management.

CHALLENGES

This research is highly technical and still experimental.

Micro-meteorological techniques are labour intensive, mainly in setting up and running the highly specialised equipment.
Measurements also depend on favourable wind conditions and suitable paddocks, and for methane, the emissions source (livestock) moves around, which can further reduce the precision of the method. Importantly, intake is also not known accurately, making comparisons between flocks/herds and over time difficult. It is hard to distinguish the methane produced by a single herd of cows or flock of sheep from methane in the air from other sources, and therefore the precision of the method is limited, making it difficult to verify small changes in emissions. 


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