Methane-reducing cattle feed one step closer

The Government today announced its support for a project that it believes could substantially reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions from cattle.

The announcement was made as part of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor’s visit to Nelson’s Cawthron Aquaculture Park.

The Cawthron Institute will receive $100,000 from the Government’s Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures fund to turn a native red seaweed, Asparagopsis armata, in to a greenhouse gas-busting cattle feed supplement for domestic and global markets.

“If successful, this project could be a game-changer for farmers here and around the world,” Damien O’Connor said.

“In previous trials Asparagopsis has proven to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in livestock by up to 80 per cent. Other products typically provide reductions of between 10 and 20 per cent. 

“Australian research estimates that if just 10 per cent of global ruminant producers adopted Asparagopsis as an additive to feed their livestock, it would have the same impact for our climate as removing 50 million cars from the world’s roads.

“Farmers know better than most about the effects of climate change and many are innovating so that they can drive down on-farm emissions. They need technology like this to help them get there though.”

Sustainable agribusiness and transitioning to a low emissions economy is a major focus for the Coalition Government.

The $40 million a year SFFF fund was established last year to invest in projects that deliver economic, environmental and social benefits.

Mr O’Connor described aquaculture as a growth industry for New Zealand that has the potential to play a more significant role in our economy. It is currently worth $600 million a year and employs over 3000 people.

“The Cawthron project could lay the foundations for a new high-value industry, along with the jobs that go with it,” the Minister said.

“There is also export potential and on-farm economic benefits, including price premiums for milk and meat.

“We want to be the most productive, sustainable country in the world. Projects like this will contribute to New Zealand’s reputation in sustainable and innovative aquaculture and agriculture.”  

The project will undertake research into the effect of Asparagopsis on greenhouse gas emissions and develop an early proof of concept of the production systems needed to develop the feed supplement at pilot-scale.

SFF Futures, through the Ministry for Primary Industries, is contributing $100,000 over the one-year life of the project, and Cawthron is contributing $150,000. Cawthron is collaborating with researchers in Australia and the University of Waikato.

The project is starting at a small, pilot scale, and if successful, will provide the impetus for further work.

Possible domestic demand of the new feed supplement could be hundreds of tonnes per year domestically.  There is also export potential and new jobs could be created from harvesting and processing the seaweed.

Asparagopsis armata is a native red seaweed which grows abundantly throughout New Zealand waters.

Research in Australia has shown that the seaweed, once harvested and dried, can be used as supplementary feed for dairy cows, cattle, sheep and goats. Research has shown the potential to reduce methane emissions from dairy cows and livestock by up to 80 per cent. The active ingredient, bromoform, is the key to emission reductions.

While cows themselves do not produce methane, they produce a group of microbes called methanogens which live in the rumen (the first stomach in the digestive system) and produce methane from hydrogen and carbon dioxide as the feed breaks down.

This particular seaweed contains chemicals that have been found to reduce the microbes in the cows’ stomachs that cause them to burp when they eat grass.

Source:  Minister of Agriculture

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog

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