Transcript of Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research Program (RELRP), Methane Northern Cattle

​This eight minute video was produced to communicate the outcomes of the Climate Change Research Program from the Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research Program – Methane emissions. It provides information to help land managers understand possible ways they can use the latest technologies and techniques to refine methane measurements and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  This research has been funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to help prepare Australia’s primary industries for climate change and build the resilience of Australia’s agricultural sector.

Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry
Transcript – RELRP Methane Northern Cattle Video (Final) – good news on methane emissions from beef cattle in Northern Australia

17 July 2012


  1. Voice Over:
    There's good news on several fronts for beef producers in northern Australia from the Australian Government funded Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research Program, RELRP.

    Scientists applying the latest technologies and techniques to refining methane measurements and reducing methane emissions have found that the real picture on methane emissions has some unexpected and positive news.

    On the farming side, beef producers are finding that improving land management practices is having a side benefit of dramatically reducing methane emissions from the properties while improving financial performance.

    CSIRO research leader Dr Ed Charmley says the RELRP is addressing cattle methane emissions from several angles; from up-close examining of the gut microbes that produce methane from ingested pasture and alternative diets, to a landscape focus on northern Australia's extensive grazing systems using state-of-the-art technologies.

    Dr Ed Charmley, Research Leader, CSIRO:
    Well here in the north we're very interested in methods that we can use in the paddock, because obviously the behaviour of the animal is so different to when you put it in a chamber or in a pen. Here today we've got two methods side by side. One called the 'Open Path', which measures just methane and we scan the laser across the cattle and measure the concentration above the cattle. The other one is the F.T.I.R. which we have two of those. One measures the concentration of several gases upwind of the herd and another one downwind. And by the difference we can measure the amount of methane and other gases that the cattle are producing.

    Methane emissions have become an issue in the last 10 to 20 years since we realised that methane is a greenhouse gas and it contributes to global warming.  We feel about four and a half per cent of the greenhouse gases in Australia are coming from the northern cattle herd.

    Dr Ed Charmley, Research Leader, CSIRO:
    When this gets in the rumen, the bugs in the rumen breakdown the fibre and one of the byproducts of that process is methane.

  2. Voice Over:
    At a recent field day at Lansdown Research Station, Dr Ed Charmley told farmers, researchers and beef industry groups that research into measuring the methane emitted by beef cattle had made a significant finding.

    Dr Ed Charmley, Research Leader, CSIRO:
    We've done a lot of measurements with tropical grasses looking at them to find out how much methane they produced because it was felt that an animal fed a tropical grass produced more methane.  But in fact, what we’ve found is with newer methods and newer technologies, the emissions are quite a bit lower than the previous estimates.  And these estimates are used to derive national greenhouse gas inventories. So with the new data we've got, we would expect that in time those would be built into the inventory system, and we'd see a reduction in the size of the emissions from the northern cattle herd, in the order of about 30 per cent.

  3. Voice Over:
    On the microscopic level the project is measuring the changes in methane emission from cattle fed a range of commonly used tropical legumes. 
    CSIRO principal research scientist Dr Sandra Eady said there is a direct relationship between improved productivity on farms and a reduction in emissions.

    Dr Sandra Eady, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO:
    The big focus of our research is on the methane, coming out of the rumen. But it's a very difficult challenge; to get that methane production down. So in terms of the quantity, that's where we should focus our basic research, to try and target that. But in terms of immediate, (results that) can be implemented in the next 12 to 18 months, it's probably going to be around improving production efficiency. So it's that issue of getting your calving rates up, getting your growth rates up, so that you can ‘turn off’ more product, [in a] shorter period of time, you can spread that emissions cost of the herd over a greater amount of product coming off the property.

  4. Voice Over:
    The findings from this research could have significant implications for not only calculating the emissions footprint of the northern cattle industry and Australia's greenhouse gas accounts, but also for producers interested in trading in the carbon market.

    Dr Sandra Eady, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO:
    The Carbon Farming Initiative is the instrument, the policy instrument that’s  been introduced to allow landholders to participate in the carbon market.  And it's designed to allow landholders to implement projects that are either going to store more carbon in the landscape; so that's things like trees, improving soil carbon, or it's going to allow farmers to mitigate, so reduce emissions. And that's where you get into the livestock space. So by having a more efficient herd you can reduce the emissions overall. Also savannah burning in a lot of the northern systems, if you can move from late season hot burning, to more early season. The burning is cooler, you get less greenhouse gases emitted if you can shift the fires earlier into the season. So burning in May rather than October. So those are options that are currently very close to being able to be implemented as a carbon offset project. Each carbon offset project needs to have an underlying scientifically proven methodology that it's based on. And so at the moment, we as scientists, are very focused on getting the science information into the methodology design, to allow farmers, to allow beef producers to start participating in that market.

  5. Voice Over:
    The RELRP is continuing its investigations into gut microbes, alternative diets, methane measurement and genetics, to develop practical on-farm options to reduce emissions in the longer term, while maintaining and even increasing productivity.

    Dr Ed Charmley, Research Leader, CSIRO:
    Genetics is a good one for the north because it is built into the animal, it's heritable and all those things and there is variability among animals and their emissions. So there’s work going on to breed for lower emissions. That's a long-term strategy. We hear a lot about vaccines as a way of vaccinating the rumen against producing methane, again that's somewhere down the road. Research that CSIRO is doing in Brisbane is looking at modifying the rumen to change the make-up of the bacteria and bugs in the rumen, and that has potential too. But all these are in the future. Here and now, it's things like we know feeding oils in the diet for example will reduce methane emissions. So cotton-seed is an obvious potential crop that would be there. But what's the price of the cotton-seed meal? Is it going to be economically worthwhile? And that’s the questions that the industry will have to look at. I think farmers understand that being more efficient is good. It makes more money, we all want to become more efficient. What this tells them is that if they're more efficient they’re also helping the environment.

  6. Voice Over:
    Australia's Farming Future is a program to help farmers adapt and respond to climate change and prepare the primary production sector to manage its greenhouse emissions. It's funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

    The Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research Program is supported by funding and in-kind support from the following partners:

    University of Melbourne
    University of New England
    University of Queensland
    University of Western Australia
    University of Wollongong

    Thank you to the following participants of this video:

    Dr Ed Charmley – CSIRO
    Dr Sandra Eady – CSIRO


Last reviewed: 30 September 2020
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