Vaccine to reduce methane from cows could be '5 to 7 years away'

The dairy industry is looking at ways of mitigating dairy cows' greenhouse gas production. Photo / Southern Rural Life files
The dairy industry is looking at ways of mitigating dairy cows' greenhouse gas production. Photo / Southern Rural Life files

Southern Rural Life reporter Yvonne O'Hara continues her series of articles on climate change — part of a project developed with funding from the Aotearoa New Zealand Science Journalism Fund.

A vaccine could be available within five to seven years to inhibit methane (CH4) gas production in dairy cows by about 30%.

While the dairy industry is attracting a portion of the blame for climate change and global warming, largely from non-farmers, the sector is doing something about it.

As part of their digestion process, cows produce nitrous oxide and methane, which are greenhouse gases.

However, DairyNZ and the dairy industry, including Fonterra, are looking at ways of mitigating that production as part of the Dairy Action for Climate Change framework, launched earlier this year.

DairyNZ's senior adviser and policy analyst Kara Lok said AgResearch was working on the methane inhibitor vaccine, and it was one of several studies under way.

''The key thing with climate change, there is no one silver bullet, but we have a suite of options,'' Ms Lok said.

Researchers are also looking at nitrous oxide inhibitors, and identifying feed that will produce less methane in ruminants and looking at selective breeding.

Research on forage rape had found it reduced methane (CH4) emissions by 20%-30% in sheep but only limited cattle studies had been done.

Other studies had been done on plantain and fodder beet.

A pilot study found certain sheep emitted up to 6% less CH4 on both lucerne and pasture, while another study looks at other inhibitors for both CH4 and nitrous oxide, as well as management practices, which also reduced greenhouse gas production by about 30%.

Those practices can include lower stocking rates, reduced replacement rates, improved animal health, improved reproduction, pasture quality and better use of supplementary feeds to balance diets.

DairyNZ also intends to run a series of climate change workshops for its farmers early next year. The workshops will be in addition to the nine DairyNZ ran recently for rural professionals.

Ms Lok said those workshops attracted 420 rural professionals.

About 100 of Fonterra's suppliers throughout the country will also be part of an on-farm greenhouse gas recording pilot and will provide each participant with a greenhouse gas report, including methane, as part of their environmental performance reporting, by November 2018.

About half of New Zealand's emissions come from agriculture, about another 40% from the energy and transport sectors and about 11% from industry and waste.

- Otago Daily Times

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