Cows are not contributing to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as much as first thought, new research has revealed.
Methane emissions from cattle in Australia are 24 per cent lower than previously estimated, equivalent to 12.6million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, according to analysis of new Australian research data.
The investigation by the CSIRO was based on data collected across eight years of research into ways to reduce methane emissions in Australian livestock as part of Meat and Livestock Australia’s methane abatement research programs.
VFF president Peter Tuohey was not surprised by the findings and said considering farmers’ practice, he could not understand the predictions were so exorbitant to begin with.
‘‘With the way dairy farmers are feeding their cows, I would’ve thought they’d certainly have improved genetics and better balanced diets,’’ Mr Tuohey said.
‘‘Research has always put emissions at a high level which seemed to be quite unusual.’’
Mr Tuohey said farmers would be disappointed that they had been misinformed for so long and he was concerned that other research into agricultural issues was also inaccurate.
‘‘I think a lot of our information comes from American or European sources and it’s probably quite different from our systems ... accurate data on Australian emissions is very important.’’
CSIRO agricultural scientist Ed Charmley said the work was conducted because of concerns about the large differential between National Greenhouse Gas Inventory and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change methane emission figures for Australian cattle, and doubt surrounding the accuracy of previous calculation methodologies used for cattle.
Strathmerton dairy farmer Andy Wilson said the research was good news because all farmers tried to be effective environmental managers.
‘‘Farmers are probably the biggest greenies of all,’’ Mr Wilson said.
‘‘We are always thinking about the environment subconsciously. We do it to keep our business viable and to have better efficiency because as margins get smaller, we can’t afford to be wasteful with our resources.’’
When mixing his own grain feed, Mr Wilson intentionally adds oil to reduce the amount of methane gas produced by cattle.
Mr Wilson said industry bodies had not tried to force behavioural changes among farmers but rather educate them about how eco-friendly practices could benefit the business bottom line as well as the environment.
‘‘A nice, comfortable cow (without excess gas in the stomach) is more than happy to keep eating and keep producing milk ... animals in general are the same and if they are healthy, they will put their energy elsewhere and use it for good. Whether it’s producing better wool, meat or milk.
‘‘Animals producing less gas emissions are an indication of better health and therefore better efficiency and profitability.
‘‘I just hope that they (CSIRO) are right. You do everything in best practice hoping the signs are correct and trust that what research is saying.’’