Refinement of techniques and evaluation of options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ruminant production systems in Brazil and the UK

Lead Research Organisation: SRUC
Department Name: Research


Methane emissions from ruminant livestock make up a significant proportion of the emissions of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Reductions of emissions from this sector depend heavily on improvements in measurements on which to base mitigation strategies. The UK and Brazil are currently developing state -of-the -art facilities for the measurement of methane from livestock using a range of experimental approaches. As a consequence o f the high priority linked to this research, the science is developing rapidly, and international collaboration is a highly affective route to accelerating progress.
Development and standardisation of methods for measuring methane emissions under a wide range of conditions (grazing/indoors; high- and low-production intensity; feed/fertiliser imported into the systems or not) is the first issue to consider in this project. This requires exchange of researchers to gain experience of the different methods and production systems. Researchers will work alongside ongoing studies using the various methane emissions measurements systems in:
UK: respiration chambers; 'sniffer' hoods; laser methane gun; and methane proxies (work on methanogen membrane lipids and hydrogen isotopic fractionation).
Brazil: extensive systems and crop-livestock-forestry systems measurements (enteric methane using SF6 tracer technique, soil N2O, CH4 and CO2 using static closed chamber method) in the Pecus Network.
Specific objectives of the work on methane methods are:

Standardisation of methodologies for measuring methane emissions from housed and grazing cattle in the UK and Brazil. Bringing together independent evaluations of techniques conducted in each country to identify potential improvements. Output: review paper

Identifying potential for new methane measurement approaches for use with free-grazing cattle. This will involve reviewing techniques currently used with grazing cattle (sulphur hexafluoride; SF6) and other methods under development (mobile sensors and proxy techniques). Output: plan for a joint research programme to develop the approach.

Developing methods for combined measurements of heat stress and methane production - refining use of respiration chambers to move from 'GHG mitigation' to 'GHG adaptation' research. Output: technical report.
A second challenge that will be addressed is the fact that effects on methane emissions per cow may be negated when the full GHG costs associated with a particular treatment are taken into account. This requires a systematic approach to modelling methane emissions that takes account of wider emissions (e.g. in the production of feed and fertiliser used in the system). We will adopt a Tier 2 Emissions Framework modelling approach (with some Tier 1 values for carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide) to evaluate mitigation options from previous studies in each country. Output: modelling paper.

Planned Impact

Brazil is the global leader in beef exports, with the second largest commercial herd in the world (212.8 million head). With very favourable soil, climate and area conditions, as well as increased use of advanced technologies, beef cattle account for 11% of the GDP of national agribusiness. In 2013, the production of bovine meat amounted to about 9.5 million tons, with exports reaching 1.5 million tons. The Centre-West and North regions are the fastest growing cattle raising areas, a trend that is likely to continue as the world struggles to meet the anticipated 60% growth in demand by 2050. Research is needed both to identify potential new mitigation strategies and to understand the wider greenhouse gas implications of changes in Brazilian agriculture. Brazil has identified this sector as critical to growth and prosperity and invested heavily in research capability. This collaboration will help Brazil make most progress from this investment.

There is a strong synergy between the UK and Brazil in livestock science and greenhouse gas research. The UK's long tradition in livestock science is matched by a large recent expansion of capability in Brazil, with many new opportunities and ideas under investigation. There are similar challenges facing researchers in each country - with high methane emissions from cattle grazing extensive pastures that are not amenable to traditional chamber-based measurements.

By gaining experience of research methods, farming practices and greenhouse gas issues in different systems, researchers will be opened up to a wider range of possible solutions and novel/ improved research methods. Improved understanding of the science and context for livestock greenhouse gas research - in particular the modelling of mitigation options in the UK and Brazilian contexts - will increase understanding of the need to set component research in a wider systems context. It will increase confidence in the applicability of mitigation options and models.
Exchange of knowledge and experience with equipment for measuring methane emissions under a range of management and environmental conditions will help advance techniques - in particular there is an urgent need for techniques for use with cattle grazing pasture within extensive production systems in both the UK and Brazil.
Description Meetings of research staff in the UK and Brazil have made an initial contribution to the standardisation of methodologies for measuring methane emissions from housed and grazing cattle in the UK and Brazil. Discussions have also identified data that can be used to model greenhouse gas emissions from UK and Brazilian farming systems.
Exploitation Route A major outcome of this partnership grant has been a closer engagement and understanding that has been developed between UK and Brazilian scientists. The programme allowed two groups of scientists to visit the UK from Brazil, and two groups of scientists from the Brazil to visit the UK. Two UK research students were also provided with the opportunity to undertake short term placements with Brazilian scientists at Embrapa (Mato Grosso). These collaborations have resulted in an increased knowledge and understanding of research activities, joint research publications, contributions by UK scientists to a high profile Brazilian conference on greenhouse gas emissions, and joint grant applications. The relationships established will continue beyond the life of the partnership grant and are likely to lead to further collaborative activities.

It is anticipated that the techinques developed in this project will be used by researchers in quantifying methane emissions from ruminant livestock. The modelling work will support farmers and policy makers identify options for increasing the efficiency of farming systems and reduce associated greenhouse gas emissions.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Environment

Description An important output from this project has involved an analysis of the greenhouse gas emissions from beef production systems in Brazil. Data was obtained from 4 commercial beef production systems in state of Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil, and used to model net system greenhouse gas emissions. Data collection involved a discussion with farmers at each locations of the methods and intensity of production. Through this discussion the famers became aware of the importance of differing management approaches to the efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions of their production system. A publication resulting from this analysis is currently in development, and will be shared with the participating farmers on completion.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description Evidence on national greenhouse gas emission mitigation and targets given as oral evidence to the Committee on Climate Change in Edinburgh on 20th Jan 2017
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact SRUC has developed an integrated programme of research teaching and consultancy activities addressing the issue of measurement and mitigation of greenhouse gas measurement and mitigation. This work was promoted by the establishment of the Carbon Management Centre in 2011, bringing together related areas of work in livestock science, crop and soil science and economics. The outcomes of this work have been used to advise bodies such as the UK Committee on Climate Change on progress against policy targets. This in turn led to a large expansion of research effort in this area supporting research on GHG emissions from the agriculture and land-use sector with funding from Scottish Government, BBSRC, NERC, EU, CCC, DEFRA and the levy bodies. Work on emissions estimates has supported an economic analysis of opportunities for GHG mitigation through Marginal Abatement Cost Curves, which have fed into UK and Scottish carbon budgets.
Description Greenhouse gas removal from the atmosphere
Amount £1,669,275 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/P019463/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2017 
End 06/2021
Description Nitrogen Newton Fund
Amount £2,983,207 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2016 
End 12/2019
Description Conference on "Understanding the European Greenhouse gas budget: Towards supporting COP21, Royal Society, London, 8-9 March 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The first 1.5 days of the meeting will be a multidisciplinary exposition of current GHG research in the UK that will feed into discussions on future challenges and opportunities for
the UK in the global context. The second half-day is focused on providing accessible material and results that will help transfer knowledge to stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017