Recent research out of Alberta has confirmed that a novel feed additive cuts methane emissions from feedlot cattle by as much as 80 per cent, depending on the diet.
The beef industry is frequently criticized for its greenhouse gas contributions, particularly methane produced by rumen bacteria as cattle digest feed. But methane produced by cattle is part of a cycle that also sequesters carbon, a much more long-lived greenhouse gas. Any methane reductions in cattle production could help cool the atmosphere, at least in the short term, according to Dr. Frank Mitloehner of University of California, Davis.
This latest two-year trial examined the effects of 3-NOP, an additive developed by Royal DSM, in the diets of both finishing and backgrounding cattle. The project involved collaboration from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Feedlot Health Management Services, Viresco Solutions, Trimble Ag and DSM Nutritional Products. The Alberta Cattle Feeders Association also supported the research, and Emission Reductions Alberta provided $1.5 million for the $3 million project.
Karen Haugen-Kozyra, president of Viresco Solutions, says the trial was the largest of its kind so far on Royal DSM’s feed additive, and also the first to detect treatment effects at the scale of a commercial feedlot. Researchers measured methane emissions with several different methods, including using a drone to collect
“It was very exciting to be able to have a pen of animals that were given a treatment, compared to the control, and being able to detect that in a very precise way,” says Haugen-Kozyra.
Karen Haugen-Kozyra discusses details of the research methods, including how they used drones to measure methane emissions at the feedlot.
Methane emission reductions varied with the diet. On average, researchers saw a 70 per cent enteric methane emission reduction when the feed ingredient was provided in steam-flaked or dryrolled barley finishing diets at 125 mg/kg of feed dry matter, notes an industry release. In steam-flaked corn-based finishing diets, researchers saw a 31 per cent to 80 per cent reduction at the 125 mg/kg dosage. Last, in backgrounding diets, increasing the dose of the feed ingredient stepwise from 150 to 200 mg/kg decreased methane by 17 per cent to 26 per cent, compared with control animals.
Researchers found no negative effects on animal health or performance or carcass characteristics with the additive.
Previous research led by Dr. Karen Beauchemin, beef researcher with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, found that 3-NOP reduced methane in cattle by 30 to 50 per cent in the long term and improved feed efficiency by three to five per cent. Haugen-Kozyra says they drew on Beauchemin’s methods when designing this latest trial.
3-NOP is an abbreviation for 3-nitrooxypropanol, a compound that inhibits an enzyme involved in methane production. The compound breaks down in the rumen into simple compounds already found in nature after blocking the enzyme, an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada release notes.
Royal DSM has filed for commercial registration for 3-NOP under the trade name Bovaer in several countries, notes the industry release.
The methane-reduction trial also has implications for Alberta’s compliance-based offset system. Haugen-Kozyra explains that the original fed cattle protocol only envisioned animals on a finishing diet, not including backgrounding. As the trial included backgrounding, Viresco was able to use that information to revise the fed cattle protocol. Alberta Environment and Parks officials said they’ll review the revised protocol once the ingredient is approved for use in Canada, Haugen-Kozyra says.
It’s expected that 3-NOP will be approved for use in Europe this year, but Haugen-Kozyra says they don’t expect to see it approved here until 2022 or 2023. The company has opted for a joint approval process with both Canadian and American regulators, which is more complex. The additive is also going to be used in the dairy market, and the USDA wants to see three lactation cycles, she adds.
“It takes a long time to be able to demonstrate to the regulators the efficacy and how well the additive works without compromising (morbidity or meat quality).”
Meanwhile, Canadian researchers have several other methane-reduction trials in the works. Viresco is involved with a project in its early stages looking for seaweed species found in Canada’s coastal waters that have methane-reducing properties.
Karen Haugen-Kozyra discusses the search for seaweed that reduces methane and can be found closer to home.
Haugen-Kozyra says they’d also like to get a lemongrass pellet project off the ground, but are looking for someone who can process lemongrass pellets suitable for grazing situations.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada researchers are also looking at a range of feed additives to reduce methane emissions during grazing, as well as the potential of high-tannin legumes such as sainfoin, she adds. In fact, emission-reduction during grazing is the focus of much of the new research, and she notes that significant
amounts of emissions come from grazing animals.
“That’s the nut to crack, I think.”