Pasture-based systems: Irish scientists given €1.4m to test methane mitigation strategies

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Ray Orton
© GettyImages/Ray Orton
The Irish government is funding a project at the University of Galway to the tune of €1.4m (US$1.5m) aimed at researching greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction solutions for agriculture.

The project, Methane Abatement in Grazing Systems (MAGS), is building on existing research conducted in Ireland showing potential for significant methane mitigation in cows through the application of various novel technologies.

The MAGS team will develop, apply, and validate a range of the most promising of those to mitigate methane in beef and dairy farming, focusing on solutions for feed, breeding, and manure management; it is an all-island initiative.  

Teagasc, which is the Irish state agency providing research, advisory and education in agriculture, along with the Northern Ireland-based Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation will work with scientists at the university on the initiative.

Beef cattle in Teagasc Grange, Co Meath and Holstein Friesian dairy cows in AFBI, Hillsborough, Northern Ireland will be used to evaluate novel slow-release feed additives in combination with microbiome assisted genomic breeding values on animal performance, health, and enteric methane emissions.

The effect of manure and slurry additives at farm-scale will also be monitored.

“Our aim is to develop and deliver important solutions for the agri-food-industry to reduce methane from pasture-based farms,” remarked Dr Sinéad Waters, MAGS Project Lead and lecturer in host microbiome interactions in the environment at University of Galway.

Methane is a greenhouse gas (GHG) produced by the rumen during the digestion process; it contributes to 62.5% of Irish agricultural emissions.

Strategies to mitigate GHG gas emissions related to cattle and sheep need to be rapidly developed and implemented on farm to comply with the targets on those set by the Irish government last year for the Irish agriculture sector - a 25% reduction by 2030, using 2018 levels as a baseline.

We spoke to Dr Michael Dineen and Dr Ben Lahart, Teagasc research officers, in October last year to hear about a trial ​evaluating the impact of supplementing Irish dairy cows with 3-NOP additive, Bovaer, as well as other approaches to methane mitigation the agency is investigating.

Feed

The scientists will assess various slow-release formats of an oxidising methane inhibitor, commercially known as RumenGlas and developed by Glasport Bio, both on its own and in combination with a range of other promising feed additives for beef and dairy cattle.

A trial in Teagasc Grange has already demonstrated that a pelleted format of the inhibitor reduced methane by 28% with no negative effects observed on animal performance or health, said the researchers.

"Ireland’s pasture system provides unique challenges for the development of effective methane supressing feed additives, but the results from our work to date have been very encouraging, with greatly reduced enteric emissions demonstrated in beef cattle fed with commercially produced diets containing novel additives," said Professor Vincent O'Flaherty, established professor of microbiology, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, University of Galway.

"The MAGS project will develop and refine slow-release feed additive formats that, in combination with advances in breeding strategies, can provide critical support to Ireland in meeting its agricultural GHG targets,” he continued.

Manure

The efficacy of a slurry additive, GasAbate, produced by GlasPort Bio, will be tested at farm-scale, with the aim of creating a blueprint for widespread agri-sector roll out.

Methane losses from stored manures account for around 10% of Irish agricultural GHG emissions, report the project coordinators.

“GasAbate slurry additive technology to reduce GHG emissions by more than 80% is now available for on-farm demonstration and the next phase of work through the MAGS project will provide additional evidence to support widespread adoption,” added Professor O'Flaherty.

Breeding

In conjunction with the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, the MAGS project will develop and validate a selection and breeding programme for beef and dairy cattle that emit less methane which is produced from the gut during grazing.

Research by the project partners has already shown that some beef cattle can emit up to 30% less methane, for the same level of performance. 

While the critical role that the rumen microbial community plays in methane emissions is acknowledged, the integration of microbiome data to improve genomic selection breeding of animals emitting lower methane emissions has not yet been applied in Ireland or internationally, note the scientists.

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