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Cattle feeds hope for methane emission cut

Some of Australia’s farmers are getting on with the job of reducing methane emissions despite the federal government not joining the latest global pledge.

NSW farmer Chick Olsson has for the past six years been making feed supplements that help major pastoralists reduce methane emissions from their cattle.

“By next year if the north were to adopt the technology, we could take out two to three million tonnes of CO2 equivalence from the Northern Beef herd,” Mr Olsson said of the feed, which was developed in collaboration with the University of Sydney

His company AgCoTech helps farmers to measure the carbon footprint of their property before they introduce the supplements to the cattle.

“We’re talking to some of the innovators in the beef industry, some of the major properties in Queensland have very large herds and are looking to reduce their methane to increase productivity and also claim a carbon neutrality on their beef brand which they market around the world.”

He says it’s a “mystery” why Australia didn’t sign up to the pledge to reduce methane, and that the majority of beef producers are on board with getting rid of our emissions by 2030.

“We can reduce methane and we have the technology to do so … the answer for us is clearly not getting rid of cattle, the answer is investing in good technology so that we can have more cattle but much less methane.”

Energy Minister Angus Taylor defended the decision not to sign the methane pledge, saying the government was focused on cutting all emissions that fuel warming.

“We’ve got a net-zero goal, we’re not setting sector specific targets, and we aren’t setting gas specific targets,” he told reporters at the COP26 conference in Glasgow.

In a recent opinion piece published in The Australian, Mr Taylor said the only “practical” and “large-scale” way to reduce methane emissions would be to cull herd sizes.

On Wednesday, Australia’s peak farming group supported the government’s decision not to join the methane pledge.

National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson said Australia’s red meat sector has already halved emissions since 2005, and aims to be carbon neutral by 2030.

“We know that ruminant methane is part of a broader natural cycle with agriculture being largely the only industry to actually sequester as well as emit.”

She said while methane mitigating and carbon sequestration technology are “well advanced” the NFF doesn’t want to see farmers restricted in areas like herd numbers.

The Climate Council’s head of research Simon Bradshaw said Australia had further cemented its position as an outlier on climate action, refusing to sign up when more than 100 other countries had.

The government’s new plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 says “substantial reductions” will be required for all greenhouse gases, including methane.

Methane from livestock is the largest source of Australia’s agricultural emissions and is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide in trapping heat.

The plan details Australia’s investment in “promising technologies” including low-emissions feed for livestock that “could reduce methane emissions by over 80 per cent”.

It also notes such technologies are at an early stage of development, with “unclear” costs and significant practical challenges in delivering it to hungry herds, given 95 per cent of the nation’s livestock are grazing animals that exist outside feedlot environments.

But Mr Olsson says the industry can rise to the challenge.

“Our Aussie tech and our scientists are amazing, and I think we can do it, and it’s not a big challenge for us because there are products already in the field,” he said.

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