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.
Sheep breeding for low methane
The sheep breeding programme in 2017/2018 continued to build on developments from earlier years.
High/low sheep lines continue to diverge and are currently on average 10% different for methane yield. The lines continue to segregate on maternal breeding worth with the low line favourable by ~$10 gross margin per mated ewe. However, breed proportion may play some role in the observed differences in maternal breeding worth so validation in other flocks with greater genetic diversity is required.
A trial with low and high methane yield selection line sheep fed cut pasture indicated consistent differences in methane per unit of intake across all four seasons, and excreted nitrogen was similar in two seasons, suggesting that breeding sheep for low methane will neither increase nor decrease excreta greenhouse gas emissions.
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