Methane inhibitors must work in both a confined feeding and grazing scenario if ruminant agriculture is to meet its climate change targets.

This was one of the key points highlighted at the recent Northern Ireland Institute of Agricultural Science (NIIAS) annual conference.

The event addressed the role of science in delivering a more sustainable farming and food sector.

Dr. Alistair Carson, chief scientist with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) confirmed that the feed additives currently available will deliver up to 30% reduction in methane emission levels within feed bunk environment.

He went to on to highlight ongoing research, involving both the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and Teagasc, looking at the development of effective methane reduction options within a grazing context.

“But we must see a very large uptake in this technology, across the entire sector, if methane inhibiting technology is to make a meaningful difference in helping agriculture to secure its climate change targets,” Carson further explained.

Developing methane inhibition technology is one thing, incentivising famers to use it is another, equally important challenge.

Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) policy officer, Aileen Lawson spoke at the conference. She confirmed that some European Union (EU) member states are proposing to subsidise farmers by up to €60/ha linked to the confirmed use of methane inhibitors.

Attending the NIIAS annual conference (l-r): Ian Stevenson, chief executive, Dairy Council for Northern Ireland; Rhonda Currie, Trouw Nutrition; and Jason Rankin, AgriSearch

UFU president, William Irvine stressed the importance for the investment made by farmers in new technologies, including the use of methane inhibitors, to be fully recognised.

“Farmers must be properly reimbursed. So either the state supports the adaption of these new systems or the markets deliver sustainable prices back to the primary producer,” he explained.

“If this does not happen, then the very future of the farming and food sectors will be put at risk.”

Alistair Carson confirmed that science can deliver enhanced levels of food security and sustainability in equal measure.

“Global population increase is a reality, as is the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide that has been generated over the past century,” he commented.

“Agriculture must be allowed to enhance its food production capacity.

“But the emission targets laid down within climate change are fixed. These are absolute figures, which are very unlikely to be changed over the coming years.

“So the farming sectors must manage to increase food output while still securing significant reductions in total greenhouse gas emission levels.”