Feed manufacturer Mole Valley Farmers (MVF) is to include methane output as a measure in its Precision Nutrition ruminant rationing programme, so that farmers and their feed advisers have a greater understanding of how different diets can affect the environment.

The software, launched at the recent Dairy-Tech event, now predicts the grams of methane/cow/day and grams of methane/litre that a specific ration is likely to produce, based on its nutrient profile. This is calculated using an equation that has been selected from peer reviewed literature to complement UK dairy systems.

The decision to look at methane in detail follows research carried out by Harper Adams University in conjunction with MVF. Researchers examined methane outputs from different diets and found that rations based on maize silage and starch reduced daily methane emissions by about 7%, compared to grass silage and higher fibre diets.

Agriculture, and especially livestock production, is under growing pressure to reduce its environmental impact, notes the company. Currently, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from UK farms account for about 10% of total UK GHG emissions. In the dairy sector, nearly 40% of emissions are from methane produced as a consequence of ruminant fermentation. The NFU has set a target for farming to become net zero by 2040, so having the tools in place to understand farming’s true impact on the environment is essential, advises Mole Valley Feed Solutions technical manager, Dr Matt Witt.

“Although there’s currently no penalty or reward for producing more or less methane, it’s likely these parameters will become more important in terms of milk payments, farm support payments or both. We want to be prepared for that,” Dr Witt says.

“We want to try and put a bit of realism into the debate around cows and the environment. Having figures on methane will allow us to benchmark so we are in a better position to help farmers plan for the future. We’ll start to get a feel for what the numbers look like, how they are influenced by diet and how they link to other key drivers of profitability.”

Dr Will notes that MVF is in the early stages of developing the system, and that calculations are likely to evolve as the figures are more fully understood. In the short term, farmers can reduce methane emissions by improving cow fertility and longevity; avoiding excessive fibre levels whilst maintaining a balanced diet for production; and producing more output per cow to enable cow numbers to be reduced.

More information from Dr Witt on 07866 786 271.