Innovation offers positive solution to red meat emissions

Modern varieties of ryegrass, proven to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock, offer the farming industry a significant opportunity to respond positively to one of the key issues debated at the UN COP 21 conference – cutting red meat consumption.

Paul Billings, Managing Director of Germinal GB, points to over thirty years of innovative plant breeding at IBERS Aberystwyth University that has led to the widespread availability of the award winning Aber High Sugar Grass perennial and hybrid ryegrass varieties.

“Independent research, partly funded by government, shows that these ryegrasses, bred with higher water soluble carbohydrate content, reduce the environmental impact of ruminant livestock,” he says. “Studies have demonstrated that lambs grazing Aber High Sugar Grass released 20% less methane per kilogram of liveweight gain than lambs on a standard ryegrass. This is significant, not least because livestock are believed to account for approximately 37% of all methane emissions.”

“Similarly, in zero grazing trials with cattle undertaken at IBERS, the amount of feed nitrogen lost in the urine was reduced by up to 24% from animals fed the Aber High Sugar Grass variety. This lost nitrogen has the potential to convert to nitrous oxide, which is a greenhouse gas with at least 250 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. So, by grazing or ensiling these modern ryegrasses with higher water soluble carbohydrate content, rumen efficiency can be improved in a completely natural way. This results in a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

“As an industry, we have a real opportunity to cut greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time improve the efficiency and productivity of ruminant livestock businesses. The technology is available now and there is huge potential simply by reseeding with the best available grass varieties.”

Germinal have been forward thinking in their approach to these ground breaking and award winning products. The breeding programme that has created these ryegrasses began in Aberystwyth in the early 1980s, producing the first Aber High Sugar Grass for commercial sale in 2000. This variety, AberDart, won the NIAB Variety Cup in 2003 for its outstanding contribution to crop productivity through improved quality, disease resistance, grower return or commercial success. There have since been six further major industry awards recognising the contribution of this breeding programme to farming and the environment.

Amongst the latest work to be carried out at IBERS is a project, funded through Innovate UK, to improve seed yield from these varieties. This is resulting in increased availability to meet global demand for seed of these ryegrass varieties.

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