Methane reducing feed additive making the leap from trials to full commercial use

AUSTRALIA is seen as a key target market for the methane-reducing feed additive Bovaer, if the presence at Beef 2024 in Rockhampton this month of the product’s inventor is anything to go by.

Maik Kindermann, head of research and development with Netherlands-based DSM-Firmenich, the developer and manufacturer of Bovaer, spent time at this year’s Beef Expo, talking with cattle producers, supply chain managers and others with an interest in lowering ruminant methane emissions and sustainable beef production.

Bovaer is now registered for use in 58 countries worldwide, including Australia, and the company is now clearly moving to full commercial phase, about to complete a major new production facility in Scotland.

Even at this early point in the product’s history, DSM estimates that around 110,000 tonnes of CO2 is being removed from the atmosphere through the product’s use in cattle. With production capacity tripling this year, expected to double again next year, and grow five-fold the year after that, literally millions of tonnes in CO2 savings worldwide is the target, within three years.

Beef Central sat down with Dr Kindermann and DSM-Firmenich vice president Mark Van Nieuwland during the Beef 2024 event earlier this month.

Dr Kindermann said Australia, with around 27 million head of cattle, was clearly an important target market for the company – “otherwise we wouldn’t be here at Beef 2024,” he said.

“What’s unique about Australia is that you already have a whole ecosystem that’s aligned.

“Your industry has its Carbon Neutral by 2030 target; you have science institutes that can measure and focus on methane; you have access to funding available to help some of the early-adopters on the research side; and you have supply chains that already have carbon-neutral beef products, or want to move there,” he said.

Australia, as a large beef producing country, is highly motivated to move into this space – you have large pension funds and other big investors investing in beef that want to lower their carbon footprint, so in essence it is a whole ecosystem. In other countries, there may be pieces of the ecosystem, but it’s rare to have it all in one place.”

15 year development pipeline

The quest to reduce methane in livestock was not new, Dr Kindermann said. In fact it had been happening at a research level for many years.

In DSM-Firmenich’s case, the company began research into anti-methanogenic compounds 15 years ago, in 2009 – long before methane started coming onto the industry’s radar.

“Our team started by looking at how methane is produced in the cow, and the microbiology behind it in the rumen. We asked ourselves, how can we influence this biological pathway?” he said.

The company’s former CEO and chairman had originally launched an early initiative called ‘Climate Change Induced Innovation.’

“He said if DSM, as a private company, had no solutions to the most urgent topics of our time – global malnutrition and climate change – then the company was in bad shape. Looking for solutions in the area of climate change and reducing methane emissions from ruminants was one of the first projects to stem from that,” Dr Kindermann said.

“It was a classic example of visionary leadership,” he said. “The chairman was effectively asking: What lies ahead of us, and how do we find solutions?”

While DSM already has a wide range of animal health and animal production products in place, Bovaer has over time become one of the company’s biggest projects.

A chemist by training, Dr Kindermann later moved into microbiology as the quest for methane reducing solutions began.

“We looked into the biological pathway of how methane is produced,” he said. “There are in fact seven steps into a specific micro-organism in the rumen that produces methane. We simply asked ourselves: How can we influence that pathway, and where can we block it, or reduce it?”

One of the enzymes responsible was identified – an enzyme which only appears in the methane-producing micro-organisms in the rumen, and nowhere else in the cow.

The research team tested thousands of compounds for anti-methanogenic effect, in a systematic and targeted approach – eventually discovering the properties of 3-nitrooxypropanol (3-NOP) the patented active ingredient contained in today’s Bovaer.

“The compound itself does not occur naturally in nature as far as we know, but the ‘building blocks’ used in its production are naturally occurring compounds, and 3-NOP is broken down by its own mode of action back into these natural compounds,” Dr Kindermann said.

ncluding the EU block of countries, Bovaer is now commercially available in 59 countries, including Australia and as of this week, the United States.

In Australia, the company  is clearly moving from the pilot stage, following trials with the North Australian Pastoral Co (currently using Bovaer in the company’s Five Founders Reduced Methane beef product), Mort & Co and supermarket retailer Coles (plus others), to full commercial use, the company’s vice president Mark van Nieuwland told Beef Central.

“Despite all the trials we’ve done, because the product is still so new we typically see potential users wanting to do their own pilot study first, to see how it works for them,” Mr van Nieuwland said.

“Basically it’s a confirmation of results, and scaling thereafter,” he said.

“But after more than 100 livestock trials worldwide, we think its s highly unlikely there will be any surprises.”

Claims around the amount of methane reduction occurring on a diet containing Bovaer vary, depending on the diet – from feedlot cattle where trials have typically shown reductions of 45-50pc, while in other Australian trials, results of 80-90pc reduction have been shown. Recommended rates of inclusion are around 1.5grams (or about a quarter teaspoon) of active ingredient per animal per day.

Cost shared across supply chains

Asked whether cost to medicate stock with Bovaer could be a point of resistance among potential users, Mr van Nieuwland said current pricing in Australian currency worked out at around 40c per head per day, but was dependent on scale of operations, animals size and other factors.

“Looking globally, it is typically not the feedlot operators or dairies themselves that are bearing the cost – it is the full value chain, because it’s the value chain itself that gets the full benefit, through brand claims,” he said.

The case of the Coles Finest carbon neutral beef brand claim in Australia was an example of that.

Mr van Nieuwland said for this reason, his commercial sales team was primarily working with beef and dairy value chains, not individual livestock producers.

Asked whether a methane-reduced beef product would necessarily gain a premium price recognition in the marketplace, or simply become a ‘cost of entry’ to access certain markets, he thought the timeframe involved was a factor.

“Today, there are definitely opportunities worldwide to offer a product line with a sustainable methane claim, because some consumers are looking for that – it stands out. But longer-term, it may also simply be a way of doing business – food service companies and retailers often have targets to reduce emissions, so if you want to stay on the shelf, it may become a cost of entry. But either way, it’s built into the value of the product,” he said.

Managing expectations in Australia

Asked about particular challenges in markets like Australia where cattle spend the majority of their lives in an extensive paddock, rather than being intensively fed out of a bunk, Mr van Nieuwland said there were two questions to be answered.

“The first is, does Bovaer work on cattle eating different diets, and the second, can you get the product in front of them at the right place, at the right time?”

“The answer to the first is it works across all diets, from fully-grass-based, through to grain. The answer to the second is that we are already trialling different delivery methods for extensively managed cattle, using some encouraging prototypes.

He would not be led on whether that might include bolus-type slow release, pellets or water-based applications, but said multiple solutions were being explored.

“Backgrounding will likely be the first step, because the livestock manager can have a little more influence on the cattle, if they are receiving some supplement,” he said.

Asked how confident he was over some of the carrier technologies for extensive applications, Mr van Nieuwland said, “It will work – it’s just a question of time and money to develop them. The answer might be there are multiple solutions for different feeding systems, but it might still be 24-36 months away.”

He did add, however, that Australia presented a particularly challenging environment for extensive Bovaer use, compared with most other countries.

“It’s very different in a country like Ireland, or New Zealand, for example, but parts of the US, Canada and Brazil present similar challenges as Australia.”

“We are clearly looking at something that works longer-term, or is fed once or twice a day, to produce methane reduction. But it may be that in some environments, expectations about methane reduction may have to be lower. Instead of 80-90pc reduction, it might be 50-60pc. Some reduction may be better than none at all.”

Research worldwide has shown that Bovaer works in a wide range of ruminant species, from beef and dairy cattle and sheep to bison, and even giraffes. No compromises had been found in weight gain performance or other production or health criteria, across more than 100 trials conducted worldwide.

“There’s more than one billion beef and dairy cows in the world, so we still have a way to go,” Dr Kindermann said, with some understatement.


Article source: Beef Central. Story by Jon Condon

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