Fonterra’s Kowbucha may hold one of the answers to lowering livestock methane emissions, its head of strategy and innovation Mark Piper says.
Fonterra researchers have moved out of the lab and onto the farm for the next stage of trials on the company’s in-house Kowbucha project, aimed at offering a solution to livestock methane emissions.
The project has centred on developing a culture-based solution to emissions, sourced from the co-operative’s extensive library of culture strains that encompass almost 80 years of assorted cultured product strains used in cheeses and yoghurts.
Fonterra head of strategy and innovation Mark Piper says after sorting through thousands of culture strains some had been identified as having potential for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from cows.
A lab-based replication of a cow’s rumen that had the Kowbucha culture strain added to it has demonstrated a 50% reduction in methane production, prompting researchers to move it to real animals.
A group of calves will now receive Kowbucha as part of their diet and researchers are confident the product will have a similar positive effect to probiotics on the youngstock.
At a media innovation gathering earlier this year, Fonterra head of science Dr Jeremy Hill said it was most likely farmers would be offered a suite of solutions to dealing with methane reductions over coming years.
While many in the industry are confident the initial methane reduction goal of 10% by 2030 can be achieved, much of it with changes in management techniques, the 24-47% reduction by 2050 was a bigger ask.
“The solution must tick all the criteria we apply to any potential GHG reduction technology. It must be good for the cow, good for the milk, good for the environment and good for the farmer,” Piper said.
It is expected it will be up to six months before researchers know if the trial has been successful and the calves will be followed for a full season to determine if the Kowbucha additive has resulted in a longer-term reduction in methane emissions.
NZ dairy emissions per litre of milk are less than a third of the world dairy emissions average, and the sector has already achieved a 20% reduction per litre of milk over the past three decades. The early research work at Fonterra indicated the use of Kowbucha-type cultures as methane inhibitors may also boost cow protein output.
Other methane reduction work at Fonterra includes working with Royal DSM on their high profile additive Bovaer, which has proven to reduce methane emissions by 30% in non-pastoral feed systems. Trials on undisclosed farms are studying how it can be integrated into NZ’s grass-based dairy systems.
Work also includes including plantain in cow diets to reduce nitrogen losses and studying the incorporation of seaweed into cows’ feed.