GrassToGas - Grass To Gas: Strategies to mitigate GHG emissions from pasture based sheep systems

Aim of the project

To develop new breeding solutions for the industry by finding ways to identify animals with lower environmental impact, which can then be selected as part of genetic improvement programmes. This project will contribute with new strategies for the mitigation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in sheep production systems.

Introduction

The purpose of the project is to combine international scientific and industry expertise to generate new information and applied solutions for the mitigation of GHG emissions. GrassToGas will identify individual animal, feed and environmental attributes associated with feed intake efficiency and methane emissions for pasture-based sheep production systems. The potential impact will be relevant for mitigation of GHG emissions within 5 - 10 years and beyond, through application of project results into sheep breeding programmes designed to produce cumulative reductions of GHG emissions of around 1-3% p.a.

What: GrassToGas aims to produce tools to measure, or accurately predict, feed efficiency and methane emissions from both individual animals and sheep systems, which will provide the international industry with the means to breed, feed and manage sheep with reduced environmental impact as part of genetic improvement initiatives. The project will use state-of-the-art sensor technologies, recording equipment and novel protocols to measure these traits at an individual sheep level and investigate the impact on sheep production systems.

Why: More than 30% of the Earth’s total landmass is used for grazing livestock production, mainly by ruminant animals. The evolutionary adaptation of the ruminant’s ability to convert pasture to animal products such as meat, milk, and fibre may have been successfully harnessed, but ruminant production has an unwanted byproduct of GHG, methane.

Where: The research is being conducted by leading research institutes located in UK, France, Uruguay, Norway, Ireland, New Zealand and Turkey, in collaboration with industry partners.

Main project activities

The first phase of the three-year project will test different technologies and equipment, such as sensors, imaging techniques, electronic feeders and faecal markers, for their ability to accurately predict feed intake and methane emissions from sheep. Current validated technologies and promising ones will be identified in the first phase, experimental work will then investigate the relationships between feed efficiency and methane emissions from sheep housed and at pasture. Genetic control of methane emissions and feed efficiency will also be investigated in GrassToGas, by assessing the differences due to breed, sire, genetic line and/or breeding values, as well as the role of the rumen microbiome.

Concept and approach

Global agreements to lower methane emissions pose an economic challenge in countries where pastoral production is major economic driver. Strategies for mitigation are needed, particularly given that global demand for meat and milk is estimated to continue increasing in the next decades. Effective mitigations solutions are needed for sustainable sheep production systems, with sheep making use of land often unsuitable for other agricultural production.

By bringing together the international scientific resources and industry expertise, GrassToGas will contribute new knowledge and strategies for the mitigation of GHG emissions in sheep, through:

  • Validating predictors of feed intake, methane emissions and feed efficiency.
  • Investigating the association between feed efficiency and methane emissions measured indoors and outdoors.
  • Exploring the opportunity to use genetics and genomics (animal and microbiome) to reduce methane emissions in pasture-based sheep systems
  • Quantifying the economic and environmental benefits of more feed-efficient and lower GHG-emitting sheep
  • Delivering applied, sustainable solutions to reduce methane emissions for the international sheep breeding community, by bringing together the latest precision livestock monitoring and molecular technology to identify novel selection targets and potential candidate genes.

Project consortium

Coordinated by: Dr. Joanne Conington, Scotland's Rural College, SRUC, (United Kingdom)

  • UK: Scotland's Rural College, SRUC, COORDINATOR
  • FRANCE: INRAE - UMR 1388 GenPhySE, INRAE GenPhySE
  • URUGUAY: National Agriculture Research Institute, INIA
  • NORWAY: Norwegian University of Life Sciences, NMBU
  • IRELAND: TEAGASC - Agriculture and Food Development Authority and Sheep Ireland CLG
  • NEW ZEALAND: AgResearch, AGRES,
  • TURKEY: International Center for Livestock Research and Training, ICLRT, Turkey

Subcontractors

  • UK: Texel Sheep Society
  • Norway: The Norwegian Association of Sheep and Goat Breeders (NSG)

More information

  • The GrassToGas project started on 1 October 2019 and runs until 30 September 2023. 
  • Twitter: @GrassToGas

Presentations and posters

Research articles

Video