This article first appeared in our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.
The quest to reduce methane emissions on farm has become a focal point for most industry bodies – and research shows that a solution that works from the inside of the cow out may have substantial merit to address the problem.
Australasian company Terragen, which develops and markets biological products for agricultural applications, tested its liquid microbial feed supplement MYLO in a 40-day trial and found a difference in both the methane intensity and methane production in the cows.
Now, additional funding from the second round of the Australian Federal Government’s Methane Emissions Reduction in Livestock (MERiL) programme means Terragen will continue methane emissions reduction research in conjunction with Fonterra, with plans to find out if higher doses of MYLO will reduce methane emissions further.
“We are going back to refine the trial, increase the dose, and build on the robustness of the research,” Terragen general manager New Zealand Paul Grave says.
“With mounting pressure on farmers to address emissions and improve animal welfare, this is great news.”
The first round of research was undertaken at Australian dairy research facility Ellinbank SmartFarm, conducted by Agriculture Victoria Research in October and November 2021.
Forty lactating Holstein Friesian cows were used in the study and two separate treatments – a control treatment and a MYLO treatment – were allocated to cows at random (20 cows per treatment).
The cows in the treatment group received 10mL/day, the same formula and dosage rate as MYLO sold commercially throughout Australia and New Zealand.
The study ran for 40 days and the modified sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) tracer technique was used to estimate methane emissions from individual cows.
Milk production from individual cows was measured at each milking and liveweight of each individual cow was recorded twice daily.
The research found the cows not given the probiotic emitted 7.5% more methane per litre of milk, while methane production in the control group was 4.4% higher than in the treated group.
That translated to the reduction of methane emissions by the equivalent of 100 tonnes of CO2 for every 350-cow dairy farm per year – nearly a third of a tonne for each cow.
In June 2022, scientists from Ellinbank SmartFarm presented the findings to the 8th International Greenhouse Gas and Animal Agriculture Conference at Orlando, Florida.
In October it was announced that the Albanese Government was granting an additional $615,000 to the Victorian Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, in partnership with Terragen and Fonterra Co-operative Group and Ellinbank SmartFarm, as part of the second round of the Federal Government’s Methane Emissions Reduction in Livestock (MERiL) programme. Terragen is committing a further $111,000 in support of the study.
The research will again use MYLO, but this time in higher doses as part of Terragen’s efforts to further increase the product’s methane reducing properties.
Grave says New Zealand dairy farmers tend to be cautious about research that has taken place overseas but believes Fonterra’s involvement will lend credibility to the results.
“Fonterra is part of the process to contribute their ideas and thinking,” he says.
Grave says it is exciting that the product is already available to purchase in New Zealand, having been available in Australia since 2018. Currently 60,000 dairy cows and 80,000 calves in Australia are given MYLO each year.
There is also work underway to have it approved under the emissions pricing scheme, so farmers are able to get a financial incentive for using the product on farm.
Grave says a lot of the other products approved under the scheme will be chemical-based and will come at a cost and potentially a loss of milk production.
“In this case, farmers may simply choose to pay the methane tax as the easiest option,” he says.
“However, MYLO appears to be offering a dual solution for farmers: not only has it been shown to reduce methane emissions, but farmers are already using it to reduce somatic cell count (by up to 38%), increase milk production (by up to 3.3%), increase feed conversion efficiency, and increase weight gain in calves.”
Grave has been involved in farming for 20 years and says recently, there has been exponential growth of farmers wanting to try biological solutions.
“This solution is half science, half heart,” he says. “Most people are now open to trying something different – but it does take time for the message to get across.
“The science of soil biology is now more mainstream; it is now a common language, as opposed to being considered forward thinking, as we have found with our other product, biological soil conditioner Great Land Plus.
“The sector has been challenged to change and adapt to the times – and MYLO is proving to help farmers become more sustainable and lift productivity.”
The second research trial is expected to get underway in early 2023.