Transcript of the Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research Program (RELRP), Forages

​This eight minute video was produced to communicate the outcomes of the Climate Change Research Program from the Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research Program - Forages. It provides information to help land managers understand how they can reduce livestock methane emissions by using Australian native forages.  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 Forages Video (Final) – What goes in must come out

10 July 2012


  1. Voice Over:
    Scientists, funded through the Federal Government’s $46.2 million Climate Change Research Program are investigating whether plants that have been in Australia for millions of years could be integral to reducing methane emissions.

    Associate Prof Phil Vercoe from the University of Western Australia has been working on forage trials to reduce methane emissions for the past three years and says that producers don't traditionally see Australian native plants as valuable livestock fodder.

    Associate Professor Phil Vercoe, Program leader, University of Western Australia (UWA) Institute of Agriculture:
    So producers haven't looked to Australian native forages traditionally, because they've seen them either as not being valuable from a nutritive value point of view or because they don't produce enough biomass. And people have investigated these forages before, the native plants before, but they have been looking for a plant that does a lot of things, it's got good biomass, it's got good nutritive value and it's unlikely that we are going to find a silver bullet like that.

    So the innovative part of this is that we are saying that you can have a mixture of these shrubs and, together or combined, they’ll provide those things. Some will produce biomass, some will produce the right nutritive, or nutritional aspects of the diet and others will hopefully, well, what we've been finding in the lab at least, is that they'll help reduce methane production from the grazing livestock.

  2. Voice Over:
    This unique project is just one of 39 research projects coordinated by Meat and Livestock Australia through the Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research Program (RELRP).

    The Western Australian forages project has investigated the role that diet plays in methane generation.

    Dr Dean Revell, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO:
    We really started the work looking at trying to fill a gap particularly in the feed supply, where we have a distinctly seasonal productivity cycle and we are very short on high-quality feed for a large part of the year, and struggle when there's extended drought periods which is something we know we really have to deal with. So we went back to look at some of the native plants, which are growing already in Australia and know that they survive the climate, but how can we build them into a production system that is manageable for the producer, and leads to good levels of production from the animal in terms of weight gain and animal health?

  3. Voice Over:
    Dr Revell says the results in terms of productivity have been positive.

    Dr Dean Revell, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO:
    We’ve just finished grazing this site here and the sheep have gained weight in autumn at a time of year that they are most constrained by feed supply and we’ve had no supplementary feed provided to the animals. So they’ve gained weight in a satisfactory fashion and we’ve maintained groundcover also to a satisfactory level and we’re at the beginning of assessing the production of methane from these animals as well.

  4. Voice Over:
    Prof Vercoe says they are looking for ways to influence the fermentation process in the rumen of grazing animals of which methane is a byproduct.

    Associate Professor Phil Vercoe, Program leader, UWA Institute of Agriculture:
    What we've been looking at with these shrubs is for plants that have compounds that can influence that fermentation to reduce the amount of methane that's produced. And methane is an energy loss to the system. So an animal consumes the feed, it has a certain amount of energy, and if methane is produced it is an energy loss, so that's energy produced that could be used for production, but it is being lost as methane. So there’s really dual benefits from finding plants that have compounds that reduce that methane production.

    Now there are synthetic products out there that have been demonstrated to manipulate that fermentation and reduce methane but there’s a general sense in the community that the less additives that we have is probably a better thing.

  5. Voice Over:
    Although reductions in methane have been proved in the lab, Dr Revell explains the importance of further testing of animal populations in the paddock.

    Dr Dean Revell, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO:
    To measure the methane in this setting we’re using  technology for the first time in Australia that's been established overseas but putting it into practice here is unique. And that's to place animals in a portable blow-up tunnel, effectively, where we can quantify all of the gases that leave that tunnel and methane is one of them. So that we can get a basic measure, really for the first time as I say, in these sort of conditions, of the level of methane produced from animals that are grazing these particular forages.

  6. Voice Over:
    However these native shrubs aren't intended to replace traditional pastures.

    Dr Dean Revell, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO:
    The native forages we've been working at will always only be an add-on to the existing pasture base. So even at the peak time of utilisation it might be  a third of the diet that the animals are selecting, could be from the native shrubs, may be up to a half in some circumstances but normally about a third. So that means the management of the pasture that’s growing underneath the shrubs or in between the shrubs, absolutely critical to get that right. And we really see the shrubs as a form of standing supplement, so they bring to the feed source something that the pastures don't. And it's the addition of both components that will lead to productivity and profitability gains.

  7. Voice Over:
    Although still early days, farmer Greg Richards can already see some benefits from these trials on his property in Quairading, Western Australia.

    Mr Greg Richards, Mixed Farmer, Quairading, Western Australia:
    Now we’ve this forage trial for a couple of years on the property now. This is the first year we've been able to actually use it. The first winter and autumn was all about letting the plants grow. But yeah, look, since the boys have finished I've had my sheep on it, so while they’re grazing, these shrubs I'm not actually hand-feeding the sheep. So that has to be a plus. And it's going to be interesting, as to whether we should have more forage plants to fill that gap in. Traditionally January, February, March, April, May can be very light on for pasture and yeah we do a lot of hand feeding in those months so if these shrubs can fill a gap, that will be fantastic.

    Certainly they appear to be a bit more hardy and tougher than the annual clovers and ryegrass that do struggle, you know the barley grass will seem to grow in anything but these shrubs have performed well, yeah.

  8. Voice Over:
    One plant in particular, Erimophila glabra, which can tolerate harsh growing conditions, has been shown to reduce methane production in livestock by between 80 and 90 per cent.

    In addition to methane reduction Prof Vercoe said that Erimophila has also been shown to have other production benefits.

    Associate Professor Phil Vercoe, Program leader, UWA Institute of Agriculture:
    Erimophila is not only interesting from a methane point of view but we know animals eat it and that's good for productivity, but also we have, in a separate line of work we have been looking at, its potential for it to influence that fermentation and reduce the chances of acidosis.  The development of acidosis, where animals may change their feed, if they go onto a grain-based diet too quickly, they can get a condition called acidosis and we found that Erimophila has the potential to try and minimise the risk of that happening.

    Dr Dean Revell, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO:
    Well for all of the encouraging results we've got in the field, for people to apply them and for it to interact with government policy, two things have to come into play. One  is it has to be profitable and manageable for the farmer, so to be able to show the true benefits and the costs of doing something differently are really critical. So animal productivity and how that plays out in farm profit, absolutely critical in order to get any change in practice. And the other is to get basic information initially and then build on that over time on the level of methane that will be produced from these grazing systems so that if it becomes part of a carbon farming initiative it's based on real numbers that stand the test of comparison and peer review.

  9. Voice Over:
    The Climate Change Research Program funded research projects and on-farm demonstrations to help prepare Australia's primary industries for climate change and build the resilience of Australia's agricultural sector into the future.

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

    Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA)
    University of Western Australia (UWA)
    Southern Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI)
    NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI)

    Thank you to the following participants in this video:

    Associate Professor Phil Vercoe – UWA
    Dr Dean Revell – CSIRO
    Mr Greg Richards – Quairdaring, WA


Last reviewed: 30 September 2020
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