Trials are continuing on Fonterra’s long-awaited Kowbucha methane mitigation project as scientists work to determine how safe and efficacious the product is in New Zealand dairy herds.
Fonterra’s head of science, Dr Jeremy Hill, confirmed late last year that trials continue to determine whether the milk derived methane mitigation culture can meet the company’s key requirements.
“As per Fonterra’s approach we need to know that it is good for animal health, doesn’t affect milk or meat, it is good for the farmer in terms of its practical use and its cost effectiveness, and it needs to be good for the planet.”
He said the work was also important to determine if the bacteria’s production is scalable and can be applied widely across herds.
“We want to also be confident. As a biological system there is likely to be a range of responses to it. But we remain excited about the results we are getting.”
The trials involve administering Kowbucha to young dairy animals over long periods, kicking off prior to them reaching lactation age.
Scientists believe if the cow’s rumen can be programmed early through the probiotic’s administration, there could be a lifelong effect on mitigating methane.
Early calf trials showed a 20% reduction in methane emitted, even when they had reached 12 months of age.
The importance of cracking the methane reduction aspect has ramped up with Fonterra’s announcement late last year of its Scope 3 emissions reduction targets for farmer suppliers to meet.
In November this was announced as a reduction of 30% in emissions from farms by 2030.
Farms contribute to 86% of the co-op’s total emissions.
Breaking down that 30%, “novel technologies” are tagged to contribute to almost a quarter of the planned reduction, which includes Kowbucha.
“Within the constraints of trail capability in NZ, we are going as fast as we can,” said Hill.
Fonterra is also trialling Asparagopsis red seaweed to help solve the methane dilemma, alongside Australian company Sea Forest.
Trials with this product have also been tagged for expansion, with Fonterra suppliers getting first option should the product prove commercially and scientifically viable.
Bovaer, the methane mitigator developed by Dutch company DSM, is now widely available for use in Australia, Canada and Europe. Hill said it will also likely be included in Fonterra’s arsenal of mitigation tools.
“No one product is doing 100% methane mitigation, so the opportunity to work on it in a pasture system is there.”
Animal Compounds and Veterinary Medicine approval has proven an area of frustration for companies seeking to get their methane mitigation products into the NZ market.
“We intend to cross that bridge when we come to it,” Hill said.
“We have decent-sized trials running so we are anticipating we will have the information required for regulatory approval when the time comes. We only started trials in spring 2021 and it is so far, so good.
“The focus is for NZ dairy farmers and for NZ dairy farm systems.”