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.

Towards low emissions livestock: the GRA's Enteric Fermentation Flagship

The GRA’s Enteric Fermentation Flagship is beginning to take shape with four initial project proposals presented to the Council when it met in August.

The Enteric Fermentation Flagship is being set up to support countries account for and reduce enteric methane emissions within a context of sustainable development and food security. It is focused on:

  • Development of solutions for reducing enteric methane emissions
  • Improved quantification of emissions at national to farm scales
  • Identification, testing and implementation of appropriate mitigation solutions in diverse situations

More than 50 project ideas were put forward by countries during the flagship’s development over the last 12 months, including at the LRG meeting held in Washington D.C. in April this year. A prioritisation process whittled this down to four initial project ideas to present at the GRA Council meeting:

  1. Profiling the Rumen Microbiome: breeding for productivity and environmental gains
  2. Feed for Yield: quantifying the effect of nutrition on enteric methane
  3. RumenPredict + : linking genetics, diet and the rumen to predict environmental outcomes
  4. Forages for the Future: mitigating enteric methane from grazing livestock

These four were identified because they a) extended existing multi-country projects; and b) had an existing funding base, and therefore could get up and running quickly.

The remaining group of project ideas will continue to be worked on by countries, as well as further project ideas gathered. For more information on progress with the GRA’s three other research flagships, see,listing,447,gra-research-flagships.html 

1. Profiling the rumen microbiome: breeding for productivity and environmental gain

Who? Led by New Zealand and also involving Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Uruguay and African and other GRA countries.

The project is an expansion of existing work in the LRG’s Animal Selection, Genetics and Genomics Network, that is funded by New Zealand.

What? A method is being developed in New Zealand and Australia for rapid, low-cost profiling of sheep rumen microbiomes to identify low methane emitting animals.

As a Flagship project, this work will be expanded to enable other countries to contribute and to include other ruminants e.g. cattle and goats. Initially, additional genetic profiling will be undertaken in dairy and beef systems in Australia, Brazil and across Africa. The project will identify animals with low methane as well as those better adapted to local circumstances.

Why? The new work will yield a method to support genetic selection of animals that doesn’t require expensive infrastructure and can be used in live animals at any stage of production. The method can then be used to identify and select low-emitting animals that are also better adapted to sustain periods of feed restriction and low quality forage 

2. Feed for Yield: quantifying the effect of nutrition on enteric methane

Who? Led by the coordinators of the LRG’s Feed & Nutrition Network (USA and the Netherlands) and potentially involving all GRA countries.

What? This project is a major expansion of existing work funded by ERA-GAS and known as CEDERS (see page 4). Databases on feed/ methane relationships will be broadened to include new data representing production systems and environments around the world. This will enable more specific methane yield (Ym) values to be developed for local feeds and production circumstances that can then be used by participating countries to improve their national inventories and to demonstrate mitigation. Expansion will focus on addressing the biggest gaps in current data, including tropical systems and systems relying on by-products for feed.

Why? Manipulating feed type and supply is one of the main ways of mitigating enteric methane. More comprehensive and globally representative data is urgently needed to increase the understanding of the relationship between enteric methane and feed, to develop nationally appropriate mitigation options and to provide locally appropriate emission factors.

3. RumenPredict + : linking genetics, diet and the rumen to predict environmental outcomes

Who? Led by the UK coordinator of the LRG’s Rumen Microbial Genomics Network and potentially involving all GRA countries.

What? As with project 2, this project is a major expansion of existing work funded by ERA-GAS and known as RumenPredict (see page 4). It will use published data to develop a database that links genetics, diet and the rumen microbiome to environmental outputs. This exploitation of existing data will enable significant research gains in understanding how changes in the rumen microbiome alter rumen function and can reduce enteric methane emissions.

Why? Manipulating the microbes in the rumen is potentially a highly effective mitigation strategy. Global knowledge of the make-up and functioning of these microbial communities has increased substantially thanks to existing GRA collaborations such as the Global Rumen Census and the Hungate 1000. This project would build on past GRA projects by broadening the samples gathered to include a wider range of production environments. This in turn supports better forecasting of animal emissions and the most appropriate strategies for mitigation.

4. Forages for the Future: mitigating enteric methane from grazing livestock

Who? Led by Canada and potentially involving all GRA countries.

What? This project will examine the practical and economic feasibility of the most promising feed-based solutions for reducing enteric methane in forage-based (grazing) systems. A database will be developed that compiles and summarises information obtained from GRA countries who have tested a range of mitigation approaches suitable for forage-fed ruminants. This will include novel local feeds, and novel feed additives and supplements.

Why? Many feed-based mitigation strategies have been identified (e.g. lipid-containing supplements, feeding compounds, legume forages etc). However, these can be challenging to apply at the local level for grazing ruminants. Providing a critical evaluation of the efficacy of the various strategies will help inform countries’ understanding of the options most appropriate to their production circumstances.

Funding for the flagship projects

Although all four projects have existing resourcing to draw on, additional funding will be needed to expand the existing projects. Countries and other research partners can make in-kind contributions by providing samples or data (depending on the project’s needs) or cash funding to assist with the costs of increased project coordination, database development, analysis etc, e.g. by sponsoring a postdoctoral position. It is hoped that the GRA’s ‘GHG Nexus’ initiative might provide a means for attracting and coordinating some of this funding (see page 6). For more information on the Enteric Fermentation Flagship, please contact


This article originally appeared in the Livestock Reserach Group newsletter October 2017, which can be viewed at 

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