More research required to reduce rising methane levels

Methane Infographic - Click to Expand

Click on the image (above) to view a Methane Infographic produced by the AFTP.

Worldwide levels of methane have risen in the past ten years for reasons that are not fully understood as detailed in this article from the Guardian.

The rise seems to indicate a surge in activity by methane-producing microbes, rather than an increase in fossil fuel emissions, which produce a similar total percentage.

Agriculture researchers are focusing on two areas that could be increasing microbial activity: the effect of rising temperatures on wetlands and paddy fields, and more intensive ruminant production methods used to meet the increasing global demand for beef.

Fermentation is a necessary process for ruminants, but it has an environmental consequence, not least in terms of production of greenhouse gases. 

Production of ruminant feed and forage is being challenged and examined, as is the ruminant microbiome as part of a multi-faceted and worldwide effort to reduce CO2 (carbon dioxide), CH4 (methane) and N2O (nitrous oxide) production. To make the latest research findings on these vital topics accessible to a wide range of industry professionals, the AFTP has developed a suite of distance learning modules focused on ruminants. 

Distance learning means there is no requirement to attend lectures on campus, so course content can be accessed online from anywhere in the world. Dr Neil MacKintosh, Lecturer at the Department of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University, is leading several of the courses. He says: “The modules focus on a range of topics including genetic sequencing of the ruminant microbiome, organic ruminant production and ruminant nutrition.”

Wide range of commercial benefits

All AFTP courses are designed with industry input to ensure they include topical issues and bridge knowledge gaps that have a direct impact on important commercial issues, such as productivity and new product development.

The courses have been carefully designed to address specific needs of industry professionals working with ruminants. Participants will be able to put to work the knowledge and skills they gain straight away.

Liz Norton, Nutritionist at Miron Biosystems, has completed the course. She said, "Learning about rumen manipulation has given me plenty of ideas for potential areas for R&D and product development that my company could start to investigate."

Ruminant Gut Microbiology module features genetic sequencing

AFTP modules, such as Ruminant Gut Microbiology, take an in-depth look at the ruminant microbiome and current research methodology.
Dr MacKintosh says: “We assess the strengths as well as the limitations of the latest research methods, including genetic sequencing, and the conclusions that can realistically be drawn.
“Genetically sequencing the microbiome gives us the ability to measure microbial shifts and potentially manipulate the microbial populations. 

“One of the priorities is to develop manipulations that reduce methane emissions, while improving productivity.

“The team at Aberystwyth is looking at the effects of yeast and plant extracts on methane production, while other recent research has focused on algae, seaweed and soy as feed ingredients.”

Advanced microbiology course

The Ruminant Gut Microbiology course is an advanced course for people already working in ruminant nutrition or a related field. It explores the function and importance in the rumen of bacteria, protozoa, fungi and archaea in detail.

Participants study the use of culture-based in-vitro based models to study rumen fermentation and modern molecular-based methods to study rumen microbial diversity and function. Biotic and abiotic agents are used to manipulate rumen fermentation. Less experienced participants may find it beneficial to start with the Ruminant Nutrition course, which starts in September 2019

Organic and low input ruminant production

Sustainable ruminant production methods include a wide range of topics.

The Organic and Low Input Ruminant Production course is led by Dr Sarah Watson-Jones, from Aberystwyth University’s Department of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences. Topics include nutrient cycling to reduce external inputs and unwanted emissions and nutrient losses, and mixed farming systems at farm and landscape or district scale. 

Dr Watson-Jones said: “Participants use research to generate empirical evidence as to whether such systems improve resource use efficiency and whether they have environmental benefits, increase local food security, or reduce the need for external feed and fertiliser inputs. 

“This works best when the goal is to increase local resource use efficiency, as opposed to a goal of increasing production, without compromising it.

International participation

The course attracts participants from around the world. 

Dr Watson-Jones says: “We frequently welcome international students who work or research in areas where ruminant production is traditionally more extensive and where the high-production systems found in the northern hemisphere are unsuitable, for example the high tropics in Colombia. 

“They’re looking at ways to improve production while maintaining biodiversity, so they want to see if there are lessons to be learned from organic and low input systems here.” 

Individual modules can lead to Master of Science degree

As well as completing individual modules, participants can combine them to achieve a postgraduate qualification. The AFTP has developed a suite of 21 modules related to sustainability and food production.

Combining modules with research can lead to the MSc in Sustainable and Efficient Food Production or to the MSc in Food Security in a Changing Environment.

The Sustainable and Efficient Food Production MSc allows maximum flexibility for participants wishing to develop and update their knowledge within specific areas of ruminant production. While each module covers a different area of technical expertise, they all focus on the challenges facing pasture-based production systems and on their potential solutions.

Applications for the summer modules close at the end of April 2019.

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