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environment

Kowbucha - Methane buster

  • July 21, 2020
  • 2 min read

Could cows be their own methane solution?  It’s the million-dollar question for New Zealand’s largest industry: how can we stop cows from burping?

Although cows in New Zealand produce only a tiny fraction of global Greenhouse Gas - at less than 0.04% - solving this problem could reduce New Zealand’s carbon emissions by up to 20%.

Scientists all around the world are working on ideas to reduce the methane produced by livestock, with Fonterra collaborating in a number of these.

At Fonterra’s Palmerston North Research and Development Centre, Mark Piper and his team are looking at the potential of two exciting new solutions.

“The details of the research are kept very much under wraps,” Mark says, “because we want New Zealand to lead the way on this.”

Without giving away too many secrets, Mark confirms Fonterra is looking at natural ways to stop the cow producing methane in the first place.

We have one of the world’s largest dairy culture collections to call on. We’re using some of these cultures to create new fermentations we’re calling KowbuchaTM, which could potentially switch off the bad bugs that create the methane in cows.

Mark Piper, Fonterra’s Palmerston North Research and Development Centre

“Obviously, there are sensitivities here in terms of ensuring that we don’t want changes to the cow’s natural biology and the milk it produces. That’s 100% natural and we want to keep it that way.

“And that’s where Fonterra’s one-hundred years of dairy fermentation expertise comes in.

“We have one of the world’s largest dairy culture collections to call on. We’re using some of these cultures to create new fermentations we’re calling KowbuchaTM, which could potentially switch off the bad bugs that create the methane in cows.”

It’s early days but initial results with KowbuchaTM have been promising.

Mark Piper, Fonterra’s Palmerston North Research and Development Centre

FRDC scientists are working with AgResearch and the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium to optimise KowbuchaTM to try to create a cost effective and practical solution to reduce methane.

This latest research comes on top of the great work from Fonterra farmers who continue to improve and adopt more efficient practices.

As a result, the carbon footprint of New Zealand’s on-farm milk supply is less than one-third of the global average and up to 30% lower than greenhouse gas footprints of European and North American milk production.

This low carbon footprint is one of the reasons why Fonterra’s dairy is so highly valued overseas and shows not all milk is created equally.

People are increasingly concerned about the carbon footprint of products they use and buy. This latest research is aimed at keeping us ahead of the rest of the world and ensuring that Fonterra and New Zealand continue to have one of, if not the lowest, GHG footprint for milk production in the world.