Action Guide

Reduce Methane Emissions From Dairy and Livestock

Environmental Defense Fund

Livestock farming is responsible for at least 14% of global anthropogenic GHG emissions. Companies with livestock farming in their supply chain have an opportunity to engage with their suppliers on mitigation opportunities and should invest in new innovations to help get mitigation technologies available at scale.

Companies with livestock farming in their supply chains should recognize the large GHG emission impact of this sector, particularly from methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas that has a shorter lifespan in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but it warms the planet 80 times more than carbon dioxide. Ruminant animals such as cows, sheep, and goats are significant sources of enteric methane emissions, making them major contributors to agricultural methane emissions worldwide. In livestock farming, enteric methane is produced by the digestive system of ruminant animals and is released into the atmosphere through their exhalation and burping. Additionally, the decomposition of their manure in anaerobic conditions, such as manure lagoons or storage ponds, releases both methane and ammonia (which contributes to indirect nitrous oxide emissions), further contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.  

To achieve your climate goals, we recommend setting an ambitious methane emission reduction target, investing in innovations and guiding your dairy and livestock suppliers towards both near-term and long-term solutions for reducing methane emissions.  By investing in solutions and working with your agricultural suppliers to reduce methane emissions, you can help lower atmospheric methane concentrations and slow the rate of warming in the near-term. 

Lead the way in driving implementation of best-available methane emission reduction solutions today for the future for the dairy and beef industry   

By setting an ambitious methane emission reduction target, deploying existing solutions, and investing in new innovations, your company could influence dairy and beef suppliers to lower their emissions, build more resilient and equitable supply chains, and meet shareholder and customer demands for climate action. Below are best practices to make your company a catalyst for methane emission reduction:  

  1. Set a public methane emission reduction goal: Publicly stating a goal to reduce methane emissions can signal to dairy and beef suppliers in the sourcing region that your company is committed to meeting its climate goals. Educate and support suppliers during this transition to obtain greater adoption of methane emission reduction tools. 
  2. Allocate resources to incentivize the deployment of low-methane intensity products in your supply chain: You can encourage adoption by offering price premiums and market advantages to those who implement proven solutions. Consumers are interested in sustainable products, and low methane emissions can be an opportunity for producers to innovate and generate more income. 
  3. Pilot technologies can help demonstrate positive outcomes, share lessons learned and streamline adoption by the broader industry: Your company should support programs that aim to reduce methane emissions in dairy & beef sourcing regions and connect with industry leaders to discuss scaling proven solutions beyond the pilot phase.  
  4. Invest in innovative technologies: More technologies are needed to reduce methane emissions efficiently. You can invest in research and development to drive new innovations, like the Greener Cattle Initiative, where companies like ADM, Nestle, and JBS USA are collaborating and investing along with public funding to address research gaps around enteric emissions. 

Engage your supply chain on near-term and long-term solutions to reduce enteric methane emissions 

While regulatory approval for promising enteric methane inhibiting products in the global market is still underway, you can engage with dairy and beef suppliers to prioritize enhancing the productivity of ruminants within their production systems in the short term. By optimizing productivity through improvements in animal nutrition, animal health, and adaptation and resilience, it is possible to reduce the methane emitted per unit of milk or meat produced. Although certain interventions may lead to an increase in methane emissions per cow, the crucial aspect is to concentrate on solutions that will decrease the methane emissions intensity of beef and dairy products. This can be achieved by ensuring that productivity increases proportionally more than the rise in methane emissions. 

Some of the strategies that dairy and beef suppliers may consider to optimize the productivity of ruminants and abate their relative methane emissions include: 

  1. Improve feed and nutrition through higher quality forage (easier to digest), improved grassland management, and pasture species. 
  2. Invest in animal health through improved reproductive efficiency, longer reproductive life, and treatment and prevention of diseases. 
  3. Provide more favorable living conditions for ruminants by introducing trees and more shade, which decreases ruminant heat stress in pastures. 

In addition to focusing on increasing the productivity per animal, we have compiled a list of breakthrough innovations that are currently being piloted or awaiting regulatory approval in the US, although some may already be available in other markets. We encourage you and your suppliers to support the testing and research of these products, while ensuring their efficacy and safety for both human and animal health.  

Innovative enteric methane inhibiting solutions 

  • Feed additives are the most widely researched method for reducing enteric methane emissions, especially in confined livestock systems. Currently, researchers are exploring a variety of solutions, from oregano to seaweed to synthesized compounds. Some of the feed additives being studied include Asparagopsis (a group of red seaweeds that may reduce enteric methane by 50-80%), nitrate, select plant compounds (such as citrus and garlic extracts), and tannins (an organic compound present in many plant foods). 
  • 3-NOP, marketed under the trade name Bovaer, is poised to be the first effective feed additive approved for this use in the U.S. Bovaer has already been approved for use in more than 40 countries and is expected to obtain FDA approval within the next couple of years. 
  • A wide variety of other innovations are currently being explored and tested and range from vaccines that can target microorganisms in the gut of livestock, to selective breeding and genetic modification of livestock, to masks that neutralize exhaled enteric methane. 

Engage your supply chain on managing manure emissions   

Manure from livestock is a valuable source of nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, that dairy and beef suppliers can use to fertilize their crops and improve soil health. However, understanding the nutrient content and being able to apply manure precisely are challenges for the industry. 

We encourage you to guide your livestock suppliers in developing and following a manure nutrient management plan, along with adequate manure testing, for sustainable manure land application. Applying manure at the right time and in the right amount can help livestock producers minimize soil nitrous oxide emissions (a potent greenhouse gas) as well as excess nitrogen runoff and leaching to watersheds and groundwater.  Additionally, manure management practices can emit odors and ammonia, with potential public health and environmental impairment risks, affecting the health, safe drinking water, property values, and overall quality of life of nearby community members. It is critical that manure management addresses both climate and local pollution controls in tandem.  

Invest in sustainable manure management systems  

Beyond adopting a manure nutrient management plan to mitigate greenhouse gases, you can also guide and support suppliers to invest in sustainable manure management systems that are emerging in the U.S. market. These are more technical solutions, requiring capital investment and maintenance, but they are effective solutions to help meet climate and local pollution reduction goals. All of these should be considered within the local context, and with engagement of local communities in understanding how the technology addresses local concerns.  

  1. Manure Separators: Separating the liquid and solid portions of manure reduces methane emissions during storage. Solids can be used as bedding, compost, or fertilizer, while the liquid can be stored for irrigation or processed to remove nutrients and odors. 
  2. Covered Anaerobic Lagoons: These manure storage systems with flexible covers capture biogas produced during anaerobic digestion. The captured biogas can be used for energy, reducing reliance on fossil fuels, and the effluent serves as a nutrient-rich soil amendment. 
  3. Anaerobic Digesters: These sophisticated systems use anaerobic digestion to produce biogas. They involve mixing manure and maintaining specific conditions to optimize biogas production. The captured biogas is used as an energy source, and the resulting effluent is a nutrient-rich soil amendment. 
  4. Management of Digestate: Digestate, the effluent from covered lagoons or anaerobic digesters, requires appropriate treatment. High ammonia concentrations in the digestate can lead to ammonia emissions, which can be addressed by storing the digestate in covered storage or using treatments that capture ammonia in solid form. Uncontrolled ammonia emissions can contribute to health risks, soil acidification, and eutrophication, causing harmful algal blooms. 

While mitigating manure methane is critical, the cost of covered anaerobic lagoons and anaerobic digesters can make it financially challenging for producers to implement these systems. Sharing the investment across various actors could be a good solution to reduce the financial burden on dairy and livestock farms and on your company.