The licensing of a new Dutch product aimed at cutting the methane produced by cattle, sheep and goats this week was highlighted at the Agricultural Science Association (ASA) conference as just one example of a range of products that farmers will have access to in their efforts to cut methane output from agriculture.

Speaking at the ASA conference on Friday morning, Dr Harry Clark, director of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC), said agriculture is in a “very very optimistic place” when it comes to the prospect of reducing methane while maintaining current levls of output from agriculture.

“There are technologies emerging, and they're emerging very rapidly and will be on the market within a few years, that can make a substantial contribution, particularly to the reduction of methane,” he told moderator Damien O’Reilly.

What it does give us the confidence in is that these products will work, they'll be coming onto the market and I think we'll see a more diverse range of things coming on the market

“A Dutch company called DSM, who market a product called Bovaer, have just had it licensed for use in Chile and Brazil. They've done close to 50 experiments throughout the world, and they are getting 30%-50% reductions in enteric methane emissions without any drop in productivity,” he said.

The company, Royal DSM, has been running 'Project Clean Cow' over the past 10 years and says it included 45 on-farm trials in 13 countries across four continents, as well as 48 peer-reviewed studies published in independent scientific journals.

The licensing in Chile and Brazil this week relates to dairy and beef cattle, as well as sheep and goats. Royal DSM also aims to secure licensing in Australia.

“The [Bovaer] product is only one of a range of products and the product is not suitable for all systems, but what it does give us the confidence in is that these products will work, they'll be coming onto the market and I think we'll see a more diverse range of things coming on the market,” Dr Clark told the ASA conference attendees.

Challenge for Ireland

“I think the challenge for New Zealand and Ireland is that we're very pastoral-based, and quite a lot of the products really are far more suitable for intensively housed animals, but to me, that's a technological issue that will get solved,” he said.

“We can have slow release devices that will allow them at some point to be suitable for our systems, so I'm very optimistic.”

He added that conventional breeding techniques will also drive methane down over time.

Referring to New Zealand, he said that farmers can now choose to use rams that are proven to have the lower emissions, and that the country is looking at cattle breeding programmes as well.

“So I'm very optimistic that further investment in technology and greater collaboration across countries like ourselves [New Zealand], will put us in a very strong position to be able to make a contribution to reducing emissions globally,” he concluded.

New Zealand climate commission

Dr Clark sits on the seven-person New Zealand Climate Change Commission, which provides independent, evidence-based advice to the Government to help New Zealand transition to a low-emissions and climate-resilient future.

He co-chairs the Livestock Research Group of the Global Research Alliance for Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA) and has been heavily involved in the work of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), including contributing to its Fifth Assessment Report and currently contributing to development of its Sixth Assessment Report.