THE State government announced a $4.2 million investment to fund research and development focussed on reducing carbon emissions and increasing carbon sequestration in WA's livestock industry at the Katanning Research Station in the Great Southern last Friday.
The announcement was made by Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan at the official opening of the Katanning Research Station's $3.8 million 20-pen sheep feed intake facility - the largest of its kind in Australia, which had been about three years in the making.
The minister, who has continued to spruik the benefits of carbon farming, toured the facilities with Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development (DPIRD) staff, WA sheep producers and MPs including the State's parliamentary secretary Darren West and the Nationals WA member for Roe Peter Rundle.
When construction of the sheep feed intake facility first commenced in June 2019, the State government had slated $1.3m for the project, however over time the amount invested increased to $3.8m.
Ms MacTiernan said the delay in getting the sheep feed facility up and running had been partly due to the impact of COVID-19, as well as an increase in the level of sophistication of the research facility.
Featuring a semi-controlled environment, including technology to continuously monitor temperature and an automated feed delivery system, the sheep feed facility will be used for research by DPIRD and collaborators to electronically record the feed intake of individual sheep that are fed a range of different diets under commercial conditions, as well as measure their methane emissions to identify genetically superior animals to target in breeding programs.
By better understanding the sheep's feed conversion, the research aims to enable WA sheep producers to refine their breeding and management programs to reduce the cost of production and improve the competitiveness of WA's sheep meat in the international marketplace.
"The electronic equipment in the pens enables us to, in a very efficient way, calculate precisely what each animal has eaten and then compare that to its protein gain and then compare that to its emissions," Ms MacTiernan said.
"So we will be able to look at the impact of diet as well as the impact of genetic strains on the emissions of the animal.
"I am particularly excited about the research in the Sheep Feed Intake Facility to reduce methane emissions from livestock, which is the biggest source of greenhouse gases produced onfarm."
With nearly 80 per cent of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions coming from the livestock sector, the Katanning Research Station will also test a range of mitigation and sequestration practices and systems at the demonstration site, with a goal to make the 2100 hectare property carbon neutral by 2030.
Carbon projects at the site will include the regeneration of saline land to capture carbon, planting anti-methanogenic pastures, soil carbon monitoring and restructuring the station's sheep flock for greater efficiency.
DPIRD will also undertake new research on feed additives, anti-methanogenic pasture systems and cropping and soil ameliorants to enhance carbon sequestration and help support more sustainable management systems for WA broadacre producers.
Ms MacTiernan said she believed the red meat industry had been unfairly targeted in terms of its carbon emissions, highlighting that a lot of the data captured had been based on northern hemisphere practices rather than that of WA.
"It's an existential issue for the livestock and red meat industry - we really want to turn that around because there are so many benefits to having animals in the farming system," Ms MacTiernan said.
"We want to make sure people can continue to feel confident about eating meat and that they aren't trashing the planet by eating meat, so we need to make sure we have our story and our science right about red meat and the environment.
"If we can help farmers reach that aspiration of carbon neutrality by 2030, or 2035 for some people, I think that would be a real bonus."
The goal to reach carbon neutrality at the Katanning Research Station by 2030 is at a time when two of Australia's major retailers, Woolworths and Coles, continue to set their own carbon targets for their products.
Coles launched its first certified own brand carbon neutral beef product last week.
Its new carbon neutral beef range will roll out across the country over the next 12 months and is certified carbon neutral from paddock to shelf to the Australian Government's Climate Active Carbon Neutral Standard.
Coles chief executive Steven Cain said the launch of the carbon neutral beef was testament to the hard work of its beef producers and their commitment to sustainable practice.
The retailer's carbon neutral beef product will carry the Climate Active stamp to help customers identify the certified beef on shelves.
Climate Active certification is awarded to businesses and organisations that have credibly reached a state of achieving net zero emissions for their products, services or other initiatives.
Acknowledging the hard work of many of WA's farmers in the sustainability space, Ms MacTiernan said she felt there had been a shift towards acceptance from the State's farmers in regards to reducing their carbon footprint.
"The evidence is overwhelming and I think our farmers know that retailers, wholesalers, and bankers are all concerned about carbon exposure, so we've got to make sure we are putting farmers in a position where they can tell a credible story about their carbon farming footprint," Ms MacTiernan said.
The State government's combined $8m investment in R&D for WA's livestock industry at the Katanning Research Station also forms part of an objective to rebuild some R&D capability back into the department.
"We are trying to build up a better research ecosphere in WA so that we can have a real team WA approach," Ms MacTiernan said.
"You have to have long-term science performed by scientists that don't have a vested interest - that's the best way the government can help underpin the productivity of farming.
"There's also no point in us doing this work if it's not translated and visible to farmers, so extension is a massive part of this research.
"They are planning a field day towards the end of this year to get a greater number of farmers involved and share the story so far."
Other research institutions such as the CSIRO and universities will also be able to use the facility's assets for related livestock research.
p FUN FACT: Enteric methane comes mainly from sheep burps, not farts.
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