In a bid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Victorian and New Zealand Governments have teamed up to tackle one of the more unpleasant sides of life, especially on the farm. Burping and flatulence from cows pose a great threat to the environment , but now there's a high tech solution.
Kate Arnott reports that the "calorimetre" can be used not only to monitor greenhouse gas emissions, but to improve farm productivity.
KATE ARNOTT: Up to five per cent of methane emissions come from the back of the cow. Surprisingly, the rest comes from the front.
The animals produce a significant amount of greenhouse gases, and Dr Richard Ekhart from the Victorian Department of Primary Industries says it's a bigger problem than most people realise.
RICHARD EKHART: Probably in Australia from agriculture, we have about 20 per cent of all greenhouse emissions come from the agricultural sector – you know, compared to stationary energy, the power sector, which is about 60 per cent – but it's equal to transport emissions.
KATE ARNOTT: To help work out how to reduce these methane emissions, the Victorian and New Zealand Government's have spent half a million dollars on a "calorimetre."
The Victorian Agriculture minister, Bob Cameron.
BOB CAMERON: If you can imagine, like, a big type of container, and the cow will be in it – as the gases are released from the cow, they can all be very accurately measured. And while the cow is in there, the cow will be eating in there, the cow will be being milked in there, so we're able to get a very precise estimate as to what exactly is happening.
KATE ARNOTT: The cow's reaction to different diets can be assessed in a controlled environment for the first time, giving scientists a more accurate picture of which foods produce the most methane and what can be added to food to reduce emissions.
Dr Ekhart says the data obtained from the calorimetre will also help researchers find ways of minimising energy loss in livestock and converting it to more milk, meat and wool production.
RICHARD ECKHART: I think that's what this whole project is about, is looking for the unleaded fuel for cows, if you can put it like that. But seriously, what we are looking for is those additives, or ways of reducing methane. But not just reducing methane for the sake of it, because methane is, as you know, is a high form of energy.
If it's going out as a gas, if we stop that, we can actually put that back into production. So you might ask what's in it for the farmer? Well, if we can stop a high form of energy escaping from the cow and re-direct it back into production, some of our figures show that we could produce a litre to a litre-and-a-half of milk per cow per day more at peak lactation.
KATE ARNOTT: Data will be collected over the next three years, and by the end of that time Mr Cameron says farmers should start seeing real results.
BOB CAMERON: When we know what changes bring about a reduction in greenhouse gases and an increase in production, then very clearly there are two vested interests here. One from the environmental side, to reduce greenhouse gases, and the other from a production side, things which increase production. So we get that win-win.
Special Thanks to ABC The World