Methane emissions from cattle, an asset in curbing climate change

By Alexander Prieto

Montevideo, Apr 5 (EFE).- Methane is one of the most hazardous greenhouse gases but German agriculture engineer Frank Mitloehner considers it an essential asset in the fight against climate change.

In an interview with Efe in Montevideo, Mitloehner says that it is important to banish the perception of the agriculture sector as one of the main contributors to pollution and start to understand that producers are key actors in the climate solution.

Methane, emitted by cows and their manure, could also be a key to global cooling, according to Mitloehner, the current director of Clear Center at UC Davis in the United States.

“If we reduce methane we reduce warming, the same is not true for other greenhouse gases when you reduce other greenhouse gases you don’t reduce warming, you just keep it stable but when you reduce methane you can induce cooling and that makes agriculture part of the climate solution,” he says.

Mitloehner explains that methane can be destroyed during the process of rusting, unlike carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, which hang around in the atmosphere for a thousands years.

The expert, who chaired the Leap project of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) between 2012 and 2015, sees ruminants as a miracle because they are capable of converting something undesirable such as weeds into consumer products.

“They’re the only animals that can break down, digest the cellulose and make milk and meat from it,” Mitloehner says. “They use the grass resource in the most efficient way possible to produce food that people desire.”

Both California, home to one of the world’s largest dairy industries, and Uruguay, where meat is the main export, face a common challenge: to take advantage of methane, according to Mitloehner.

“In California, we are trapping some of the greenhouse gases from animal manure under plastic and then we convert the resulting gases into a fuel type for vehicles,” he explains, referring to California’s dairy industry strategy, which has reduced methane emissions by 30%.

However, he points out that Uruguay, where he traveled to participate in various meetings with technicians, businessmen and officials from the National Meat Institute (INAC) and other organizations, must seek a tailored solution since its farming system is not as intensive as in the US.

In Uruguay “the manure from your cattle is dropping off the animal, falling on the ground, entrenched into the ground where it enriches soil fertility, it’s a very different way so the same technology does not apply here but other technologies will.”

However, Mitloehner says Uruguay is doing an “incredible” job in making the most of its natural resources, noting that the country can still improve its management of pastures and animal genetics.

“We should not look at methane as being something bad, we should look at methane as something good. That sounds absurd but it’s not because if we reduce losses of methane to the air then we are improving the profit of the farmer and we are reducing climate impact,” Mitloehner concludes.EFE


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