Monday, April 22, 2024

Suite of emissions reduction solutions brewing

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Seaweeds, synthesised methane inhibitors and “kowbucha” are all likely to provide a cocktail of solutions to dairying’s greenhouse gas (GHG) issues in the next decade.
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Fonterra head of science Dr Jeremy Hill says farmers are likely to be offered a suite of solutions to lower their emissions, all of which the co-op is contributing to.

The pastoral sector is required to achieve a 10% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030, and a further 24-47% reduction by 2050.

“To hit that longer-term target of 24-47%, that will need quite major reductions to our systems. If we want to retain a leading position, it pays to have multiple means to achieve those reductions,” Hill said.

While there has been some well-proven reduction in sheep GHG emissions using genetics that is now being applied to cattle, the species represent an expensive step up for researchers.

“They are super expensive when you get into cows, requiring many animals and chambers/facilities to measure effectiveness,” he said.

Collectively the solutions appear to lend themselves well, but individually all still have a significant level of trialling and development to ensure they will meet Fonterra’s four parameters.

“It has to be good for the planet and good for the farmer in that it is cost effective and practical, and good for the cow and good for the milk,” he said.

Hill says Fonterra’s approach in making these parameters the first principal requirements differed from a more research-based, solutions approach often adopted by researchers.

Vaccinations have long been touted as something of a silver bullet solution, but he says they remained challenging because they required methanogen bacteria to bind in the animal’s rumen, not in its bloodstream.

“You need to get antibodies expressed to such a level they can pass into the rumen. Achieving that consistently high level of antibodies, that will be a big breakthrough and will have global consequences for cattle,” he said.

Nations like India, which already have large-scale cattle vaccination programmes for assorted diseases, offer an appealing outlet for such technology.

Fonterra intended to give this technology a “big push” over the next five years, capitalising on the significant increase in global vaccine production capacity resulting from the pandemic.

Trials are now under way on the methane inhibitor Bovaer in conjunction with Dutch company DSM. The compound has achieved 15-20% reductions overseas in ration-controlled dairy environments, but needs to be proven in NZ’s free-range pastoral systems.

Proving it suitable in a pastoral environment would also give a major green light to vast tracts of the global cattle trade also running stock pastorally.

Looking inwards, Fonterra is assessing its extensive library, comprising 50 years of dairy cultures used for cheese and yoghurt production that may be capable of being used as a GHG inoculum in cows.

A number of patents have already been sought for this and Hill says researchers were relatively confident the so-called “kowbucha” strains would be safe in milk and on cows, given that was where they had originated.

“But if you are going to modify rumens with this, you want to look at long-term results. We would require four seasons of production to study it,” he said.

Red seaweed is also being researched as a natural methane inhibitor.

When mixed at a rate of about 1% into cows’ diets it has been proven to reduce methane emissions. However, issues of ozone depletion, palatability, animal health and milk composition impact all also have to be addressed.

The final tool Fonterra hopes to offer suppliers is a closely guarded “novel science” technology that Hill has previously said has huge potential but is still under development.

He did not expect farmer suppliers would be required to subscribe to any one particular solution when they were commercialised.

“You would instead just ensure they hit the target required. How they get there, that will be based on the technologies available,” he said.

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