HydroGreen fresh forage significantly lowers methane emissions in cows
Research 17.05.22

HydroGreen fresh forage significantly lowers methane emissions in cows

Homepage Resource Center HydroGreen fresh forage significantly lowers methane emissions in cows

HydroGreen fresh forage significantly lowers methane emissions in cows by up to 1 metric tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent, per cow every year

There are 1 billion cows in the world emitting 220 billion pounds of methane every year. With the global population of cows expected to continue to grow, livestock producers are investing in innovative solutions to lower environmental impacts to enhance stewardship, including economically viable ways to reduce methane emissions from cattle.  New research shows forage grown in HydroGreen Automated Vertical Pastures™ is a solution for the animal agriculture industry. 

In the US, agriculture contributes 11% of greenhouse gas emissions and according to the EPA, 36% of methane emissions are from livestock. Compared to the energy and transportation sectors, this is a small contribution to total emissions, but producers are interested in production methods that contribute to carbon reductions.

Ruminant animals like cows, sheep, and goats have stomachs with four chambers, the largest of the chambers is called the rumen and can hold up to 25 gallons of food. Rumen microbes ferment and digest feed which produces carbon dioxide and methane. 30 – 50 quarts of gas are produced every hour during digestion, with the rumen contracting once or twice a minute. Cows release most of their gas by belching (eructation) and is a natural result of the rumen swelling due to gas.

Scientists have studied an array of strategies to reduce methane from ruminant animals like cows including feed processing, adding lipids, vaccines, additives, supplements, chemicals, and even seaweed. While there has been limited success with these methods, many have struggled to scale, and scientists generally agree that the best way to manage methane emissions in cows is through diet.

Reducing dairy cow and beef cattle methane emissions

HydroGreen, a division of CubicFarm Systems, has patented a commercial-scale automated feed growing system called Automated Vertical Pastures™ (AVP) that produces fresh forage estimated to reduce methane emissions in dairy cows by approximately 24%, and preliminary findings show similar or greater reductions in beef cattle on a per kilogram weight gain basis.  When HydroGreen fresh forage is included in a cow’s daily ration, we can remove the equivalent of 1 metric tonne of carbon dioxide per animal per year. That averages to 116 grams less methane per day for every cow.

How does HydroGreen fresh forage reduce methane emissions in cows?

The reason adding HydroGreen fresh forage to the feed ration can reduce enteric methane emissions in cows by such a large margin lies in the unique process and growing conditions in AVPs.  

Lowering methane emissions by boosting naturally occurring simple sugars

Automated Vertical Pastures™ grow fresh forage hydroponically, indoors, in a controlled environment on a commercial scale. Growing indoors ensures the perfect growing conditions and allows plants to go from seed to feed in just 6 days using 95% less water and zero pesticides.

Growing in an Automated Vertical Pasture™ means there is virtually no stress on the plant like there would be in an open field, so metabolic activity in the plant is optimized, releasing more naturally occurring enzymes from the seed which stimulates the production of extra simple sugars in the plant.

For cows and cattle, these simple sugars, are the easiest to digest. The additional plant enzymes allow the complex carbohydrates in a cow’s diet to easily convert into digestible sugars and result in better health and performance outcomes. When the rumen operates more efficiently because of higher proportions of simple sugars, there are less desirable by-products, including methane.

Knowing that simple sugars have a significant impact on reducing emissions from cattle, it’s important to transparently quantify how the methane reductions for cows receiving HydroGreen were measured.

Measuring Methane
In 2021 researchers conducted a trial to determine if adding hydroponically sprouted grains grown in HydroGreen’s Automated Vertical Pastures™ can reduce methane in cows and improve feed efficiency, and cow health, nutrition, and performance outcomes.

During an observational comparison study with 344 jersey dairy cows and 244 beef cattle, gathering over 200,000 data points, study trials measured methane concentration in dairy cows and beef cattle. Eructation event methane concentration was assessed twice weekly with an open path infrared absorption spectroscopy device in different settings, using methods described in the Journal of Methane.

Observations showed that including HydroGreen in the ration significantly increases dry matter intake (DMI), rumination activity, and nutrient digestibility. The results indicated 24% less methane emissions in dairy cows, preliminary data showing a similar if not greater reductions in beef cattle.

Dr. Fernando Diaz, Nutritionist and CEO of Dellait® Animal Nutrition & Health, found that “HydroGreen is a very unique product, it’s like a high-energy forage. It has very good content on fiber, along with very high energy coming from sugar, making it one of the most energetic ingredients in the market.” 

The same trial found that by enabling better ration digestibility in the rumen, overall health and performance outcomes are also improved. Findings included:

– 10% improved fiber digestibility
– 5 – 15% increase in feed efficiency
– 4.5% increase in milk fat production
– 12% increase in feed intake for transition cows

An On-Farm Solution to Produce More Feed Without More Acreage or Water

With 365 indoor harvests a year done directly on the farm with a touch of a button, the need for sourcing and transporting forage—usually by rail and truck—is eliminated or reduced, limiting the overall carbon footprint of the farm or ranch, while at the same time providing superior nutrition throughout the lifecycle of the herd. In addition, producers grazing cattle in drought regions have another tool to reduce risk of pasture damage in low forage years.

Occupying only 1 acre of land, multiple AVPs can free up to 500 acres of farmland, equivalent to 378 football fields, while harvesting 25 million pounds of fresh, high-energy animal feed a year.

Water is another resource that is conserved with AVPs. With 95% less water used, compared to traditional irrigated crops, 12 AVPs save 500 million gallons of water every year, which is increasingly relevant as our waterways are increasingly tapped for both urban and rural needs.

HydroGreen’s Farmer Partner, Michael Rigby, Rigby Cattle Company thinks of AVPs as a form of drought insurance: “The severe drought had us worried we wouldn’t be able to feed our herd. HydroGreen technology allows us to grow our own fresh livestock feed on farm. Our family’s been in the cattle industry for generations, we were considering getting out of the business entirely if we couldn’t get high quality, nutritious feed for our cattle. Having a consistent, predictable feed supply, no matter the weather, is essential for our family farm success.”

While this is great for the farms, animals, and the planet, Automated Vertical Pastures™ are a game changer for global food security, tackling a multitude of challenges directly on the farm, allowing farmers to feed their herds reliably, enhancing stewardship outcomes, while minimizing the impact on the environment, independent of supply chains.