Farm methane is bigger than Arctic permafrost, and we can do something about it

Our biggest hopes of keeping global methane levels down may be chewing the cud in a paddock near you.

A recent UN report on the methane emissions from thawing permafrost has sparked global concern, but methane emissions from agriculture outweigh the output of the permafrost – for each tonne of methane coming from the arctic each year, we can expect at least two from agriculture.  The world’s 3 billion ruminant livestock are the prime source, singlehandedly burping out at least as much methane as the permafrost is expected to produce.

The good news is, we can do something about this. Methane is a major theme at an agriculture and climate change conference in Melbourne today, where scientists and farmers gather to discuss the options.

Changing what we feed our cattle, and breeding generations of ‘low-methane’ stock can help cut emissions – but University of Melbourne researcher Richard Eckard believes that the tiny, silver bullets may lie right in the gut of each cow. Gut microbes in ruminants are currently poorly understood, and as scientists learn to manipulate them, we might see opportunities to make big cuts in methane emissions.

As one of the world’s highest consumers of meat per capita, the other option for Australia is reducing how much meat we eat. However, as global demand from the developing world grows, we face an uphill battle; some projections suggest we’ll need 5 billion ruminant livestock to feed the world by 2050.

Other methane-related stories from the conference online at

  • The genetics of burping – breeding for less methane
  • A farmer’s perspective: what it will take to get us to do our bit for the climate
  • Landfill methane: We throw away more fruit and veggies that we eat

For interviews: Thami Croeser: 0421 133 012, AJ Epstein: 0433 339 141, or email