On a New Zealand farm, scientists are trying to reduce cow burping to save the world

PALMERSTON NORTH, NEW ZEALAND, Oct 11 (Reuters) – More than a dozen calves wait to be fed a probiotic called Kowbucha at a research farm in New Zealand.

Kowbucha powder is mixed into a milk-like drink fed to calves at Massey University’s farm in Palmerston North.

The regular feeds are part of a series of trials being carried out by New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra ( FCG.NZ ) from 2021 to measure how effective the probiotic is in reducing methane emissions. New Zealand has committed to reducing biogenic methane emissions by 10% by 2030 compared to 2017 and by 47% by 2050.

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Shalome Bassett, senior scientist at Fonterra Research and Development, said the “real eureka moment” came when early trials suggested calves released up to 20% less methane when given a probiotic supplement.

“Probiotics are great because they’re a really natural solution,” Bassett told Reuters. “Whatever we do, we have to make sure it’s easy for the farmer to use, it’s cost-effective and it’s good for the cow and doesn’t affect the milk.”

Ongoing trials have shown similar, encouraging results, he said. If that continues, Fonterra hopes to have packs of Kowbucha in stores by the end of 2024, Bassett said, before farmers start paying for animal carcasses.

Fonterra said there was no pricing information for the packages yet.

Some feed additives available overseas have proven to be more effective. Royal DSM’s ( DSMN.AS ) Bovaer feed additive can reduce methane emissions by 30% in dairy cows and more in beef cattle.

Fonterra said Kowbucha is generally an easier solution because farmers only need to feed it to calves when they are rearing, as it is expected to have a lasting effect.


In 2025, New Zealand will be the first country to put a price on agricultural emissions, including methane emissions from belching cows and sheep, which produce methane as their digestive systems break down vegetation. Agricultural emissions account for nearly half of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Before that, given that agricultural products account for more than 75% of the country’s merchandise exports, farmers, businesses and scientists are working on ways to reduce emissions without reducing herd numbers.

Along with initial optimism around Kowbucha, AgResearch scientists said in December that they had successfully bred low-methane-producing sheep, and that a product called EcoPond, which virtually eliminates methane in farm sewage, would be available from late 2021.

New Zealand is also considering whether supplements that have been successful overseas can be adapted locally. Most of the science abroad is focused on changing the diet of stock animals, and it is more difficult to implement in a country where the animals live mostly outdoors and eat grass.

“The easiest way to reduce emissions is to reduce production or have fewer animals, so it’s a real challenge when we’re trying to produce food and keep our export earnings at the level we want,” ANZ agricultural economist Susan Kilsby said.

In the run-up to 2025, the government is considering exactly how to estimate agricultural emissions.

Although the pricing of farm waste is not universally popular, many believe it is necessary for farmers to reduce it.

Mike Manning, senior manager of innovation and strategy at Ravensdown agricultural co-operative, said farmers were slow to adopt EcoPond technology without financial incentives.

The system cuts up to 99% of methane emissions from the manure-sludge left in the dairy barn after milking.

“People are saying, ‘well, I can wait until the price of meth, then there’s a financial driver,'” Manning added.


The New Zealand government said in May it would spend NZ$380 million ($213.22 million) over four years on research to combat agricultural waste.

Sinead Leahy, chief scientific adviser at the government-funded Center for Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research, said the cash injection could speed up research and put some emerging technologies in the hands of farmers and growers “much earlier”.

A lot of research is already underway.

After discovering that some sheep naturally produced less methane than others, Hamilton-headquartered AgResearch bred sheep with this genetic trait to each other and found that the lowest-emitting sheep produced about 13% less methane than the highest emitters. produces.

AgResearch says that if this kind of breeding were implemented nationally, it could reduce New Zealand’s methane emissions by up to 1%.

The dairy industry is now exploring how to apply this research to cows, Leahy said.

Research also remains key for Fonterra as it aims to limit farm emissions to 2015 levels. In addition to Kowbucha, he is also testing other feed additives and seaweed.

“Being a leader in this is absolutely essential for us. Our farmers need a solution and New Zealand needs a solution,” Bassett said.

($1 = NZD 1.7822)

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Reporting by Lucy Craymer; Edited by Ana Nicolaci da Costa

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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