The world is getting warmer
Much of the world's population rely on livestock for their food.
However, livestock bring with them a gassy problem. Methane from burps and farts is a greenhouse gas 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. More than 20 per cent of the world's entire total of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock production, and in Australia the contribution of methane emissions from ruminant livestock is around 10 per cent of total greenhouse emissions.
In Queensland, methane from cattle accounts for over 70 per cent of greenhouse gases from agriculture.
As part of the livestock sector's plan to become carbon neutral by 2030, peak body Meat and Livestock Australia have highlighted methane-reducing forages as one greenhouse gas emission abatement strategy.
An added benefit of reducing methane emissions in cattle is that it means they lose a little less energy, leaving a little more energy to grow faster.
Methane-reducing forages and supplements
As part of our research for the northern beef industry, we’ve researched a number of forage crops and supplements that reduce methane in grazing animals at our Lansdown research station near Townsville in Queensland.
We have state-of-the-art facilities and technologies to measure greenhouse gas emissions from cattle at various scales – laboratory, whole animal and landscape.
Our methane chambers accurately measure how much a cow eats and how much methane it emits. The chambers are a small, clear room with fresh air coming in, and they measure the composition of the air coming in and going out.
We also have portable measurement units to measure multiple animals in the paddock.
Leucaena, Desmanthus and FutureFeed
Some of the crops and supplements we’ve researched are nitrates, nitro-compounds, algae and the tropical forage legumes Leucaena and Desmanthus.
We've assessed their effectiveness at reducing methane, potential for scale-up to commercial scale, nutritional value and more.
Leucaena and Desmanthus grow well in Queensland and are high in protein. We've shown that they can decrease livestock methane emissions by 2-14 per cent, depending on the type and variety.
Our expertise and facilities has led to FutureFeed, a cost-effective seaweed feed additive, which uses a variety of Australian seaweed that significantly reduces livestock methane emissions. FutureFeed has been found to reduce the production of enteric methane by more than 80 per cent.
The work shows promise in helping farmers operate in a low carbon future and potentially earn payments for avoided emissions.