Canadian Government Tries Carrot Approach to Reduce Cattle Methane

By Will Verboven  Contributing Editor

Cattle producers know that, sooner or later, their governments will force methane reduction regulations on their industry. Progressive governments and their green/left lobby industry allies have been pointing at methane emissions from cattle and sheep for years. The stats can be sketchy, but there are claims that domestic livestock emissions range from 15 to 30 percent of global emissions; it all depends on the bias, agenda and ideology of those making the claims. Interestingly, emissions from wild ruminants are not included in calculating a country’s global emission share – some estimates are that wild ruminants produce around 20 percent of worldwide emissions. Not surprisingly, no country wants to include those emissions in their share. More on that later.

The European Union (EU) has been more aggressive in its approach to reducing livestock methane emissions. At first, they encouraged voluntary actions by producers with the usual subsidy incentives. Using innovative feeds and additives to reduce cattle methane production is the usual approach, and the European livestock industry is well along with the whole exercise. But it hasn’t gone along quickly enough for some EU countries. The Netherlands couldn’t wait for significant reductions, so they legislated compulsory reductions, prompting massive protests by Dutch farmers, which saw the government back down. They then offered a €1 billion buyout program to reduce cow numbers and livestock farms. That program will probably be successful. The precedent was the buyout of the Netherlands hog industry 20 years ago, which at one time, numbered 11 million head. That very generous buyout program reduced the sector to 5 million hogs or less.

The Canadian cattle industry has been apprehensively waiting for our progressive Liberal federal government to rule on methane production from cattle. It is inevitable, and an easy target, as the present Liberal government is an urban-based political party with little support in agricultural areas of the country. Recently, the Canadian government announced a couple of emission-reduction programs that will take the voluntary/incentive approach. The first is the Agricultural Methane Reduction Challenge. It’s a $12 million contest of sorts that will see a panel of experts determine the best 20 project applicants from which a final two projects will receive $1 million grants. Losers will get lessor grants. It will be open to cow-calf, dairy and feedlot operations. Some contest possibilities include novel feeds, additives, unique infrastructure, genetics, etc. I guess the intent of this soft, fun approach is to put a positive spin on the idea of reducing emissions.

I recall writing about methane-reducing feeds and schemes 25 years ago. There was the infamous methane-reducing cattle feeding project in Uganda sponsored by a Canadian energy company trying to obtain carbon credits. It was sketchy from the beginning and impossible to monitor scientifically. However, the federal government has floated a remarkably similar draft protocol for a methane-reduction program in Canada. The protocol is called Reducing Enteric Methane Emissions from Beef Cattle. The idea is that, by utilizing methane-reducing feeds, additives and management, producers can sell carbon credits. At this point, it’s a draft protocol, and the government supposedly will be consulting with the industry with regulations to be released sometime in 2024. One is suspicious of the proposed program being directed at only beef cattle; dairy cattle also produce methane under more intensive circumstances. Perhaps an established reduction protocol exclusively for beef cattle located mainly in Alberta will be used as a wedge to implement new carbon taxes on just cattle feedlots. It’s always political in Canada.

Methane-reducing feeds have their limitations – cow-calf producers mainly utilize forages. I suppose dry or liquid additives can be offered to cattle in the field, but that is an added cost with little potential to recover that expense. Feedlots face the same predicament. How are methane-reducing feed costs recovered? Supposedly, the carbon credit concept is to offset those costs, but they need to do more than offset; they must involve some return to investment and labor. One wonders how measurements will be made to prove that a producer’s cattle fed a methane-reducing additive produce less methane in a known quantity. Will proof of purchase of feed additives be enough, or will the feds be hiring battalions of cow fart inspectors to monitor and confirm methane reduction? In Canada, we have reached a level of religious fervor by our federal government in their single-minded pursuit to save the planet – so nothing is impossible, no matter how absurd.

Earlier, I mentioned that wild ruminant emissions are not included in a country’s global emission share. But neither are wildfire emissions, of which Canada is usually the largest annual global emitter, thanks to our abundant forest lands. Citizens in distant areas became aware of that occurrence when forest fire smoke from Canada reached as far away as New York and Western Europe. It’s claimed that if wildfire emissions stats were included, Canada’s share of global emissions would double or even triple. Our federal government ignores that reality and prefers to spend millions on reducing livestock flatulence. It boggles the mind.

In Canada, we have reached a level of religious fervor by our federal government in their single-minded pursuit to save the planet – so nothing is impossible, no matter how absurd.