Is a goal to reduce methane emissions by 2020 reasonable and realistic?

by Amanda Smith, Hoard's Dairyman Associate Editor

In 2009, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy set a goal to reduce enteric methane emissions per pound of fluid milk by 25 percent by 2020. At this point, our industry has seven years left to meet or exceed this benchmark. During the most recent ADSA (American Dairy Science Association) Discover meeting covering advancements in rumen microbiology, this objective along with an overview of how it would be accomplished was reiterated.

With its "Cow of the Future" white paper, a select group of academics and industry professionals addressed this problem providing eight areas of research to help us meet the voluntary target that was set for our industry.

In 2009, it was proposed that implementation of current technologies and management practices along with further genetic progress in milk yields is expected to result in a 10 to 12 percent reduction in methane emissions per unit of milk over the next decade. To achieve the additional reductions required to reach target levels requires an investment in research to identify and develop new strategies and technologies.

The eight established areas of research include:

1. Rumen microbial genomics and ecology

2. Rumen function and modifiers

3. Enhancing feed quality and feed ingredient usage to improve feed efficiency

4. Genetic approaches to increase individual cow productivity

5. Management practices to increase individual cow productivity

6. Management of herd structure to reduce number of cow days of nonproductive animals (replacement heifers and dry cows)

7. Development and refinement of methane measurement techniques

8. Modeling efforts to quantitatively integrate the knowledge gained in the above areas

The proposal was updated in July 2011. To view the most recent draft of the proposal and more detailed information on each of the proposed research areas, click here.

While it's admirable to set and define goals for our industry to strive toward, not providing producers with a means or method to achieve them does not allow forward progress to be made. The majority of the areas listed above describe topics our industry has been researching for decades. Can we make the desired progress by 2020?

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