By Schnarr, J.W. on July 14, 2017.
Cattle gas focus of U of L study into biochar
A University of Lethbridge project aimed at reducing methane gas emissions in cattle using a type of charcoal as a food additive has received federal funding.
The study, led by Erasmus Okine, U of L Vice-President (Research), will investigate whether the use of biochar, a feed supplement, in beef cattle diets improves the efficiency of digestion and reduces the amount of methane gas produced. The federal government has kicked in $1.1 million to go toward research.
Project manager Rodrigo Ortega Polo said the project is an integrated approach starting in the lab. It will then move to animals, including the methane and how manure with biochar in it affects soil.
“We’re looking at a lot of different aspects here,” said Polo. “A lot of what we call the ‘farm to fork continuum.'”
Polo said biochar is available in the U.S. as a feed additive. He said in Canada, there are regulations for using it to colour minerals, but he did not believe the material has been registered as a feed.
“It’s one of the things we would like to get out of the study,” he said. “Really, nobody has studied this in Canada.”
“Reducing the amount of greenhouse gases produced by the cattle sector is important both environmentally, economically and helps build public trust. Producers want to operate in a sustainable fashion and our study results will help them do that,” stated Okine in a news release.
Some animals produce up to 200 litres of methane per day. This mostly occurs through belching.
“As opposed to what a lot of people think when we talk about methane,” said Polo.
“They think about cow farts. But the majority of emissions with cows is through belching. And they do it silently. You wouldn’t really notice.”
A reduction of methane could mean increased energy going to growth.
“Energy going into methane production is energy that is lost and not going towards meat,” Polo said.
“If we are able to increase the efficiency, that is energy that will go to meat. We’re trying to reduce the waste of energy and increase efficiency of production. Instead of having methane, we have better quality meat.”
Biochar is an environmental material, such as wood, burned in a low or zero-oxygen environment. It has been found to have a number of uses, including absorption of carbon and chemicals, and retention of water.
Biochar can act like a filter, preventing the contamination of ground water.
Because biochar has higher water and nitrogen availability, it is thought increases in crop production (plant health and yield) may occur.
The project will be evaluating the effect of biochar-loaded manure to different soil types.
This project is one of 20 new research projects supported by the $27 million Agricultural Greenhouse Gases Program, a partnership with universities and conservation groups across Canada.
The program supports research into greenhouse gas mitigation practices and technologies that can be adopted on the farm.
This specific project is being led by the U of L and involves the University of Manitoba, University of Alberta, Agriculture and Agrifood Canada, and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.
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