While carbon dioxide is a “super pollutant”, methane is a “super opportunity”, according to Professor Frank Mitloehner, an air quality specialist in the department of animal science at the University of California, Davis.
This is because methane is a “flow gas” that stays in the atmosphere for only 10 years, unlike carbon dioxide, which lasts for 1,000 years.
As part of a biogenic cycle, methane is broken down into water and carbon dioxide, which is drawn from the atmosphere by plants and sequestered in the soil.
Watch the video courtesy of Clear Center at the University of California, Davis:
This means if cow numbers stay constant and production methods improve – so that farm methane emissions are reduced – farmers have the ability not only to reduce net emissions but to achieve carbon neutrality, says Prof Mitloehner.
In California, dairies have realised a 25% reduction in greenhouses gas (GHG) emissions and are well on their way to achieving their goal of reducing emissions to 40% in 10 years’ time.
This has been achieved by covering slurry lagoons and using feed additives, says Prof Mitloehner.
Currently, 70-80% of all GHG are produced in developed countries. More must be done to get farmers in this part of the world to use better genetics and feed so they are more efficient and don’t need to grow herds to increase production.
Speaking at the British Cattle Breeders’ conference last week (26 January), Prof Mitloehner encouraged farmers to speak out against misinformation surrounding farming’s role in climate change.
“A lot of people are unreasonably critical of farmers and they need to hear from farmers,” he told the conference. “Authenticity is our greatest weapon and farmers are considered a reliable source of information in the discussion about food. Tell your story.”