Toward a Lower-Carbon Food System: Quantification of Methane Emissions from Animal Agriculture

Holstein cows grazing in a grassy farm pasture with red barn and silo
Project Type
April 2017

Animal agriculture is a major contributor to anthropogenic emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Accurate quantification of emissions from dairy farms is challenging and, currently, there is a large discrepancy between top-down and bottom-up emission estimates. We propose to collect methane emissions measurements using the eddy covariance method at two dairy farms in Pennsylvania to evaluate and, if warranted, improve of a state-of-the-science methane emissions model. Emissions measurements will be collected from both farm manure management operations and dairy barns. Activity data from the farm (numbers of animals, ration composition, manure management practices, environmental conditions) will be used to evaluate our emissions model, improve it, if suggested by the data, and compare this model to the algorithms used to estimate national emissions from the dairy industry. The emissions model can be used to evaluate potential approaches to mitigating emissions via changes in agricultural practice. The project addresses both the food-water-energy, and the climate change foci for this call for proposals. The proposed work will support a new, intercollege collaboration that builds upon strong expertise in each area and will entrain early career researchers, including an Assistance Professor from Animal Science and an atmospheric turbulence expert in Meteorology. This collaboration will provide a nucleation point for future studies and funding opportunities at the intersection of agricultural practice and environmental management. 

Resulting Funding

  • USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service: To identify promising feed management practices in dairy cattle that will result in consistent, long-term reduction of methane emission intensity and total methane emissions in dairy cattle. $2,000,000.
  • Naturally Occurring Compound to Reduce Enteric Methane Emissions, 2022, Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research, Purina Animal Nutrition, $914,543.
  • Development of Novel Methanogenesis Inhibitors in Ruminants, 2023, $758,776; Matching Funders   Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, ADM, the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB), Elanco, Genus plc, JBS USA, the National Dairy Herd Information Association, Nestlé and the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC)

Resulting Presentations

  • Qian Guo, Scott Richardson, Adam Sokol, Thomas Lauvaux, Alex Hristov, Bing Hong, and Kenneth Davis. 2018. Methane Emissions Estimation from a Dairy Farm using Eddy Covariance Measurements. Presented at the 2018 AGU meeting.
  • Adam Sokol; Thomas Lauvaux; Scott Richardson; James Hlywiak. 2017. Eddy Covariance Measurements of Methane Emissions from a Dairy Farm Waste Lagoon. Presented at the 2017 AGU meeting. 


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