REDUCING methane has long been a concern for scientists interested in livestock performance, but it is only since it became a taboo issue - due to climate change - that significant grant funds have become available to investigate further.
University of Western Australia associate professor Phil Vercoe has been keen to research ways of reducing methane for three decades, but up until recently there was little money available to fund research.
Now, however, it is a popular issue because of the opportunity results might give towards reducing global warming.
Researchers have been getting some promising results - with the dual benefit of helping the climate and improving animal productivity.
“As animal production people we’ve certainly been interested in methane because it’s an energy loss to the system,” Dr Vercoe said.
“We’ve got some money over the years to keep doing animal nutrition and rumen microbial work, but it’s certainly not had the interest that the impact of methane on climate has had.”
Since 2004 researchers including Dr Vercoe have been involved in the Enrich project, which spans four Australian States, including NSW.
The project is looking at the potential benefits of Australian native plants as part of grazing systems.
Dr Vercoe and South Australian Research and Development Institute’s (SARDI) senior research officer Jason Emms, also involved in Enrich, recently visited Narromine to give an update on the project, including its work on methane.
“There’s certainly a lot more interest in methane, and that’s been beneficial to us because we want to reduce methane from a production point of view,” Dr Vercoe said.
Dr Vercoe said the Enrich program had been able to access federal government money for research into reducing emissions from livestock.
“They invested money because they knew we were looking at all these shrubs for the nutrient values and other values,” he said.
“They said while you’re doing all that screening, why don’t you look at what impact they might have on methane?”
So far they have discovered through laboratory and field tests on sheep that Eremophila, or emu bush, helps reduce methane in sheep.
“We’ve found if we just have it as a small part of the diet, it does reduce methane production.”
Mr Emms said methane was a product of digestion and the research had shown a number of emu bush plant species seemed to reduce output.
Emu bush seemed to be very bioactive in a number of different ways, he said.
“We’ve done some work with animals in controlled circumstances where we’re only looking at emu bush being a small part of the diet,” he said.
“With emu bush contributing to 15 per cent of the diet in a paddock setting, we’re able to see about a 10pc reduction in methane output without affecting the digestibility of the total diet.”