Methane: Can Farmers Lead The Way To Lower GHGs?

Beef cows ( Mootral SA )

“The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) within agriculture is enteric fermentation – i.e. the methane produced by livestock during digestion and released by belches. In 2011, this accounted for 39 percent of the sector’s total GHG outputs.” April, 2014 – UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO)

The good news is that, through a group effort between Switzerland’s AgriTech firm Mootral SA and a growing number of farmers, it is now possible to lower the amount of livestock-based methane (CH4) being released into the atmosphere.

Methane – The history

Scientists have shown that methane from any source – wetlands, industry, transportation or agriculture - has around 80 times the global warming potential (GWP) of CO2. 

So some years ago, when the impolite global warming habits of dairy cows and beef cattle first hit the headlines, the cry immediately followed that we should change our diets and stop eating beef.

Fortunately for farmers, milk-lovers, butchers and backyard barbeque aficionados, the pendulum soon regained its equilibrium.

That didn’t mean the warnings could be ignored, though, because, for 20 years after the creation of any CH4 emission, the resulting greenhouse gas is far more intense than any caused by our better-known nemesis - carbon dioxide (CO2).

So although reducing all greenhouse gases remains an urgent global objective, the Mootral team believed that lowering the type of methane discussed by the UN Food & Agriculture Organization could be one of the fastest ways to achieve significant results.

On that premise, and knowing that 14.5 per cent of total emissions arise from a cow’s four-stomach digestive process, Mootral set out to prove that modifying a cow’s traditional diet by including natural-source supplements could significantly reduce the overall amount of methane produced.

Mootral - The supplement

With varying degrees of success, many different supplements – including certain types of seaweed - have been tried for more than a decade. Unfortunately, while some recipes showed promise digestion-wise, farmers’ costs to implement them have been discouraging.

“Our team met those challenges head on,” says Mootral’s Head of Digital Marketing, Kate Seiler.

“Our scientists found that, depending on breed and farming practices, by including only 10-15 grams/day of our proprietary mix of natural garlic and citrus-based ingredients in the feeding regime, a steer’s CH4 emissions can be reduced by up to 38 per cent,” she explained.

“In part, Mootral does that by killing off some of the bad bacteria in the cow’s digestive system. This, in turn, preserves the animal’s energy and boosts its milk and protein production,” she said.

In turn, research at the University of California, Davis, found a 23% reduction in methane production “over 12 weeks when supplemented with 15g of Mootral,” said Ermias Kebrab, director of the World Food Center and a professor of animal Science at UC Davis.

Notably, Mootral has no adverse effects on the good bacteria so crucial to proper digestion of the feed material in the rumen – the animal’s first stomach.

The cost at present is around $70 annually per cow, but the proven reduction in CH4 emissions may allow farmers to claim the benefits of carbon offsets.

Mootral – An opportunity for farmers to lead the way?

Until restraints imposed by the coronavirus pandemic caused a hiccup in their plans, the Swiss firm and its Welsh sister, Neem Biotech, were poised to ramp up their activities across North America in early spring 2020.

Undaunted, and despite gloomy predictions that some farms might have a tough time surviving the trials of COVID-19, the consortium adjusted its approach to accommodate what has fast become the ‘new normal’. Today, they are again ready to seek active support from farmers and investors to pilot Mootral in dairy and beef farms across the country.

“Farmers are close to the land,” Seiler said. “They and their families depend on a pollution-free climate not only for themselves but also to promote and conserve a healthy agricultural world for future generations,” she said.

“Small or large, no matter the size of the operation, we invite all dairy- and meat-industry players – including researchers and governance - to contact us, learn more, and join our goal to have the agricultural sector lead the battle against climate change – cow by cow and farmer by farmer – as Mootral lowers methane emissions and atmospheric greenhouse gases the natural, affordable way.”

Elizabeth James is a freelance writer based in North Vancouver, B.C., Canada.