New research cluster to target livestock gas emissions

A new research collaboration between a team of scientists and the CSIRO’s Sustainable Agriculture Flagship is aiming to reduce Australia’s overall greenhouse gas emissions by targeting one of its key contributors – burping livestock.
According to the CSIRO, Australian agriculture directly accounted for about 10 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions; the Livestock Methane Research Cluster (LMRC) intends to lessen this impact.
Led by researchers from the University of Melbourne, the LMRC aims to improve the measurement and management of methane emissions for grazing lands in northern Australia, thought to be responsible for five per cent of the country’s overall greenhouse gas emissions.
In a statement, University of Melbourne project leader Professor Deli Chen said that the LMRC would draw on the skills of world-leading research institutes to accurately measure methane emissions from livestock under real grazing conditions. “This is a critical step if we are to help agriculture reduce its emissions because if you can’t measure, you can’t mitigate,” Professor Chen said. CSIRO research project leader Dr Ed Charmley said that the Australian Government’s Clean Energy Act set a long-term goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent of year 2000 levels by 2050.
“This research will help identify field-based measurement techniques and protocols that can support management actions and technologies that can help Australia meet such ambitious targets,” Dr Charmley said.
“The Cluster will also develop science that supports methodology development for the Carbon Farming Initiative [CFI], an Australian Government program that enables farmers to earn ‘carbon credits’ for undertaking abatement activities on their properties.”
The CSIRO’s Flagship Collaboration Fund will finance the LMRC for more than three years, supplemented by support from several other Australian universities including Macquarie University, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Victoria, University of New England, University of WA, and University of Wollongong in addition to researchers from Agriculture
and AgriFood Canada and the University of Alberta.
As the carbon pricing mechanism comes into effect on July 1 this year, the CFI scheme will operate alongside it. The CFI will grant farmers, forest growers and landholders abatement credits in return for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions (mainly methane or nitrous oxide), or by increasing the amount of carbon stored in soil or vegetation on their property. Landholders will be able to sell the abatement credits through
Australia’s carbon pricing mechanism and international carbon trading markets. However, before abatement credits can be issued for a particular activity (such as reducing enteric methane emissions), the CSIRO explained that a defined methodology for measuring the emissions savings from that activity must be approved and registered in accordance with CFI regulations. The LMRC’s research seeks to contribute to the science upon which such methods could be developed. The CSIRO stated that until recently, there had been no suitable methods to measure these emissions in the field, despite how vital such a measurement method would be in a carbon trading economy.
By using laser technology, researchers have demonstrated that it is feasible to measure methane emissions from low densities of cattle in a paddock. A laser is used to measure methane concentration over several hundred metres. Researchers are then able to estimate methane emissions based on these results and wind data. The CSIRO stated that larger-scale commercial trials would be conducted using a modified method, utilising laser measurements on cattle corralled at watering points.
Several tropical legumes have already been examined for their possible methane limiting properties. These were fed to cattle in methane chambers and the effect of each legume was assessed by increasing the proportion of legume in the cow’s diet.
In the cases of lucerne and stylo hays and Burgundy bean feed, increasing the content of legume in the cows’ diet reduced the emissions of methane per kilogram of dry matter intake. This data concurred with a previous study that was designed in the same manner and funded by the Department of Climate Change. The CSIRO stated that the data would be used to validate the results of the laser measurement work.

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