Science – Solving the agri-methane problem

The performance of New Zealand in seeking to achieve zero carbon by 2050 has been satisfactory as reflected in UN global climate performance indices, but it could have been more exceptional. The single issue that has raised tensions between the NZ farming sector and those in the broader climate-sensitive community has been agri-methane or enteric methane. Methane must be viewed among the most damaging of the common greenhouse gases – even worse than carbon dioxide. The good news is that an effective scientific solution to agri-methane emissions has presented itself.

DSM, the major international corporation (US$16 billion) based in the Netherlands, specialises in nutritional products for humans and animals. DSM has developed an agent, Bovaer, which includes 10-25% of 3-nitrooxypropanol (NOP-3), a simple, selective agent that acts as an effective agri-methane inhibitor.

Bovaer NOP-3 seems certain to be deployed widely among the leading international dairy-producing countries, including the USA, UK, Germany and Australia, following years of testing and approval. The NZ Rural News Group reported that Bovaer has been cleared for use in 45 countries and it was approved this month by the NZ Environmental Protection Agency, an essential step in registering it for use in NZ. Importantly, Bovaer has been demonstrated to be safe for cows and humans.

The efficacy of Bovaer has been evaluated in the Oxford Academic Journal of Animal Science (July 4, 2023). During fibre digestion in the rumen, enteric methane is produced. There have been a series of studies to develop specific inhibitors of methanogenesis, and Bovaer NOP-3 is the most practical and effective agent for this process. This peer-reviewed paper in a respected journal has evaluated Bovaer NOP-3 at two levels on methane emissions, nitrogen balance and performance by feedlot cattle. In this study, no effect of NOP-3 has been found on animal performance or nitrogen balance. However, NOP-3 consistently decreased methane emissions and methane yield from dry matter intake. This study has decisively demonstrated the potential role of NOP-3 in reducing methane emissions from feedlot cattle.

Meat and Livestock Australia also reported that Bovaer added at a low dosage rate of 100mg/kg to barley-based finishing diets containing the antibiotic Monensin and 7% fat, reduced methane production by 90%. Average daily gain and feed conversion ratios for steers were found to be aligned with industry expectations. NOP-3 was evaluated as part of a funded project, which has the aim of reducing enteric methane emissions in Australian feedlot operations and was found to reduce methane production. At the lowest rate, methane reduction of 60% was observed and, at the highest rate, it was 90%.

When Bovaer is finally adopted and implemented in New Zealand, one of the more sensitive and divisive problems in reducing carbon emissions will be resolved. Both the farming community and the rest of NZ should rejoice because when this happens, the NZ community as a whole can move on to become world leaders in climate remediation.