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Mitigating methane emissions

 

Because methane is the main greenhouse gas associated with animal agriculture, researchers have been exploring different ways to mitigate methane emissions from ruminants like cattle.

Some practical solutions were discussed during a recent Kansas Beef Council seminar, sponsored by the Kansas Soybean Commission.

Two solutions that have been studied are using feed additives and managing manure, said Frank Mitloehner, Ph.D., professor and air quality specialist in the University of California-Davis Department of Animal Science and director of the CLEAR Center. Mitloehner was invited to speak at the Kansas Beef Council’s Consumer Trends Forum held on Dec. 8. Mitloehner’s feed additive trials have been conducted on beef and dairy ranches, although currently he’s been monitoring commercial dairies for methane emissions.



“If someone has a dairy and a lagoon where manure is stored, they can put a top on the lagoon, and then the gasses don’t go up into the air,” Mitloehner said. “The state of California is strongly advocating reducing greenhouse gas emissions with low-carbon fuel extended credits that convert greenhouse gasses into something advantageous, because that helps reduce and trap methane gas on the dairy, and converts it into fuel,” Mitloehner said. “So, now, trucks can burn the RNG (renewable natural gas), which is a much cleaner gas than regular diesel.” He noted that methane gas is flammable, and that people can either burn the methane, or make fuel from the biogas.

FEED ADDITIVES



Another new way of reducing methane gas is through a feed additive that may contain extracts from plants like seagrass or lemongrass. While several extracts can reduce greenhouses gases they are currently used in laboratories and are not yet available on the market. However, there is one extract available commercially. “The natural feed additive called Agolin is commercially available and can reduce greenhouse gasses,” Mitloehner said. “It’s an essential oil and reduces methane. I found that Agolin reduces methane by 10 percent, which produces a lower environmental footprint and saves money.”

Also, the Food and Drug Administration is reviewing a chemical additive called 3 NOP. It was designed in a lab and disrupts the formation of methane in the stomach of the cow. “The FDA is expected to approve it in 2021,” Mitloehner said.

Mitloehner is also involved in more microscale work at specific dairies or farms to reduce air pollutants and greenhouse gasses, and teach others how to quantify emissions from livestock.

Interestingly, beef cattle have a lower carbon footprint than dairy, Mitloehner said.

“I do research on commercial dairies to find out what their emissions are today so they know how much to reduce further,” Mitloehner said. He acknowledged that getting farmers and ranchers on board with ideas to implement will take some time.

“Right now, this whole topic is not a major topic in most of the U.S.,” he said. “California is however regulated for methane, so people in California pay more attention, but in the future it’s likely to happen elsewhere, so it is recommended that producers in other states pay attention to what’s happening in California, because it’s likely to come around.”

Two solutions to reduce methane emissions that have been studied are using feed additives and managing manure. Photo courtesy CLEAR Center/UC Davis

CONCERNING CONSUMERS

Although consumers want to know how their food is being produced, Mitloehner said, there is a separation between perception and what is occurring. When people go grocery shopping, they are mainly concerned with three main aspects. “No. 1 taste, then price and nutrition,” Mitloehner said. “These are the three factors that drive consumer’s food choices.”

Mitloehner believes that although issues like carbon footprint and sustainability move people, they don’t impact most consumers enough to change their food-buying decisions.

Food interests are different in Europe, particularly in northern Europe. Mitloehner said European residents discuss and are interested in sustainability, animal welfare, food safety and other issues. “But getting these topics from Europe to cross the Atlantic into California, then Oregon and elsewhere generally happens five years after, (almost like a fashion over there),” he said.

FEEDING THE WORLD

To avoid the spread of misinformation, Mitloehner said farmers should provide information and facts about producing food, so people learn from the correct source.

As the world anticipates feeding 10 billion by 2050, there are specific global food production challenges that producers will face.

“We have to continue producing food, plenty of it, in the most efficient way possible,” he said. “Just like with vehicles, the better the efficiency the fewer emissions,” he said.

The U.S. also needs to continue to address food insecurity and food waste.

“Food insecurity isn’t just a topic in the developing worlds, Mitloehner said. “We have a problem here in the U.S. right now not just in California. But at the same time, 40 percent of all the food we produce goes to waste. It’s a global problem throughout the world.”

As Mitloehner put it, “Everybody should agree that food insecurity and food waste are totally unacceptable no matter who you support politically.”

For more information, and to read Re-Thinking Methane, go to Clear.ucdavis.edu and you can read Mitloehner’s blog on food waste at https://bit.ly/clearfoodwaste.


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