World’s First Research to Raise Low Methane Livestock Recognized

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The work of AgResearch scientists to successfully breed low-methane-emitting sheep as a tool to fight climate change won the Supreme Award at this year’s Science New Zealand Awards.

With the support of industry through the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium (PGgRc) and government through the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Center (NZAGRC), AgResearch scientists have spent more than a decade working on the science and were able to identify genetic differences. that influence the amount of methane produced by an individual sheep.

By reproducing this genetic trait with a low methane content, scientists were able to demonstrate that after three generations, the sheep with the lowest emissions produce nearly 13% less methane than the largest emitters, per kilogram of food consumed. While the actual farm-scale reduction in methane is less when sheep are also bred for other desirable genetic traits, it should still be significant. Low-emission sheep have also been shown to be healthy and productive in terms of their meat and wool.

Suzanne Rowe, senior scientist at AgResearch, says this knowledge is being shared with the sheep industry in New Zealand, with researchers around the world, and is also helping research into low-methane-emitting cattle.

“Research like this is essential for the agricultural sector, which produces almost half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions and needs practical tools to help meet a reduction target of 24 to 47% less methane by 2050, ”said Dr Rowe. Methane is a relatively short-lived but powerful greenhouse gas.

The judges of this year’s Science New Zealand Awards, which include nominations from the seven Crown Research Institutes of New Zealand and Callaghan Innovation, highlighted the major importance of AgResearch’s work in New Zealand and ” tangible contribution to the global problem of our time ”.

AgResearch’s first global achievement also featured a technical innovation in the form of specially designed portable accumulation chambers that can be taken to farms to measure methane emissions from each sheep.

Dr Rowe says it is humiliating to see his work and that of his colleagues recognized.

“It took over a decade to reach this point and it has been a long journey by a team of dedicated scientists. We have worked side by side with sheep breeders and farmers to achieve a practical result that can be applied on farms. It is a fantastic feeling to know that we have achieved something that will make a difference for the livestock industry, for New Zealand and the world on climate change. That’s why we do our science – to make a real difference.

“We were fortunate in this program to have great support from our funders in PGgRc and NZAGRC, and to be able to work closely with the sheep industry through Beef + Lamb Genetics to share these gains with breeders and sheep farmers. We believe that when this low methane breeding trait is incorporated into the whole New Zealand sheep herd, the reduction in methane could be in the order of 0.5-1% per year, which which will be important as it builds up over time.

PGgRc Managing Director Mark Aspin praised the recognition of “an immense amount of mahi and dedication” since 2007 by the AgResearch team led by John McEwan and Suzanne Rowe.

“The livestock industry relies heavily on genetic improvement to remain competitive and the challenge of reducing methane is no different. The results of this research will be important to our farmers, ”said Aspin.

“This pioneering research has provided sheep farmers with the ability to permanently and cumulatively reduce methane, underpinning and complementing other greenhouse gas reduction strategies. This has opened up the opportunity for all New Zealand breeding industries to follow suit and is now gaining momentum as the focus is placed on extending genetic selection across the national herd. from sheep and cattle and deer. “

The full list of Science New Zealand award winners is available at: https://sciencenewzealand.org/news-and-events/awards/

* AgResearch is a Crown New Zealand research institute. It works with a wide range of partners in science, education and agribusiness to provide the comprehensive and authoritative research that supports agriculture in New Zealand and its exports to the world.

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