Tracing the Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Cattle

AUSTRALIA - New research by the Department of Agriculture and Food is investigating the contribution of beef cattle to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gases.
calendar icon 6 March 2009
clock icon 2 minute read

For the first time in Australia, greenhouse gas emissions from beef cattle under open range grazing conditions have been measured at the department’s Vasse Research Centre near Busselton.

Researcher Fiona Jones will be reporting on the results at the Climate 21 Conference at the Burswood Entertainment Complex on Friday 27 March.

“Controlling greenhouse gas emissions is seen both nationally and globally as an important means of slowing climate change,” Ms Jones said.

“Agriculture can be a significant contributor to these emissions, but until we obtain accurate measurements under local conditions we cannot fully appreciate how best to counter them.”

The WA trial involved 50 cattle on low quality pasture during summer. Each cow wore a halter with attached canister which released a tracer gas at a calibrated rate. Gas emissions were measured downwind of the herd.

The open path Fourier Transform Infra-red technology was developed by researchers at the University of Wollongong who provided equipment and staff for the trial.

“We need to know whether we are on the right track in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and how conditions in Australia relate to those from Europe and elsewhere,” Ms Jones said.

“Most of our livestock are grazed on pastures rather than feedlots so this trial is a very important piece of the overall jigsaw we are piecing together.

“Agriculture will not be part of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Program until 2015, but well before that we need reliable on-ground records of the contribution of various sectors.”

The Vasse trial compared emissions from cattle selected for efficiency of feed conversion. It is hoped that more efficient convertors may be lower gas emitters which could help provide future guidelines for management.

Ms Jones said the research should also help to understand the proportion of methane emitted compared with other gases, and the effect of factors such as feed quality.

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