Climate protection

Das Zitronengrasprojekt ganz einfach erklärt – PM Wissen auf Servus TV

Cattle is becoming more climate-friendly thanks to lemon grass!

A research initiative of Marcher Fleischwerke in cooperation with the Agricultural Research and Education Centre Raumberg-Gumpenstein confirms a reduction of methane emissions of feeder steers by adding lemongrass to the animal diet in a field test lasting several months. The project was inspired by the results of a Mexican study, which was conducted on behalf of Burger King. Burger King informed its long-term European business partner, Marcher Fleischwerke, about this project, whereupon it evaluated the effectiveness of the lemongrass diet under domestic feeding conditions.
"Great social goals are best achieved when everyone honestly thinks about what they can change in their immediate sphere of influence"
Norbert MARCHER, Geschäftsführer

On the initiative of Marcher Fleischwerke, the AREC Raumberg-Gumpenstein under the project lead of Dr. Thomas Guggenberger, head of the Institute for Farm Animal Research, conducted a field test over several months. Based on the existing study from the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico1 , the aim was to replicate the effect of lemongrass as a feed additive on the methane concentration in the cattle’s breath under Austrian conditions - it was found that among the 47 cattle, which were included in the field trial, the average reduction of methane emissions in the breath was about 15%.

“Great social goals are best achieved when everyone honestly thinks about what they can change in their immediate sphere of influence. As our customer Burger King informed us about the impressive study results from Mexico, we were immediately enthusiastic about the idea of evaluating whether similar results could be achieved under domestic housing conditions. Fortunately, we found an expert team of the AREC Raumberg-Gumpenstein under the lead of Dr. Thomas Guggenberger who do not only have the required infrastructural capacities but also outstanding scientific competence, experience and enthusiasm in the relevant research area” explains Norbert Marcher, CEO of Marcher Fleischwerke, the successful field trial.

For the purpose of the field test, the farmer Christian Schrammel, who is located in Schwarzau am Steinfeld, provided 47 feeder steers in the weight range between 300 and 600 kg in 8 boxes of 6(5) animals each. The animals were divided into two groups, each alternately being fed with additional 100 grams of lemongrass per day (ration proportion depending on age: 1.2 to 1.7 percent). Between September and December 2020 (four measurement periods of three weeks each) each box was fed twice with and twice without lemongrass. At the end of each measurement period, the methane (CH4) content in the breath of the cattle was measured with a special measuring device. Additional sensors provided information about the processes in the rumen of the animals.

Lower methane emissions by adding lemongrass

Following results were obtained from the field test:

  • Feeding 100 grams of lemongrass reduces the CH4 emissions in the breath by an average of 14.6%.
  • There is unlikely to be a negative influence on the processes in the rumen at this amount. All results of the ruminal boluses are typical over this course of time and differences were not statistically significant.

Easy to implement

The tested concept of feed additive is easy to implement and the results of the field trial confirm that adding lemongrass to the animal diet causes feeder steers to release less methane when digesting their feed. Consequently, the known effect from the literature could also be confirmed under Austrian conditions.

A contribution of the agriculture to climate protection

Methane emissions from livestock farming are one of the many sources of greenhouse gas emissions. In order to reduce these, the digestive processes of the ruminants can be influenced. Enterogenic fermentation occurs when grass and hay are degraded by microbes in the rumen. During this digestion the microorganisms produce methane, which the ruminants then expel. A natural active ingredient that dampens this effect is, for example, tannin which is present in lemongrass with a 6 percent content.

"The initiative of Marcher Fleischwerke to reduce methane emissions from the enteric fermentation of domestic cattle by adding lemongrass is very insightful - an exciting approach on how companies in the food sector can make a contribution to climate protection through innovative production approaches," said Dr. Thomas Guggenberger, Head of the Animal Research Institute at AREC Raumberg-Gumpenstein.

"When it comes to climate change, agriculture and forestry are always part of the solution and not the problem. I am very proud that research is carried out on such future-oriented projects at our research sites. Agriculture in Austria, with its small farms, is continually reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Since 1990, the domestic agriculture sector has emitted 14.3 per cent less greenhouse gases. But we will continue to carry out research on future solutions. This project shows that the emission of methane can be reduced by 15 per cent thanks to alternative feeds. Lemon grass will not be able to solve all problems but the results offer important insights for the future of livestock farming. We will now build on these results with the HBLFA Raumberg-Gumpenstein," explains Minister for Agriculture Elisabeth Köstinger.

1 VÁZQUEZ-CARILLO, M.F., MONTELONGO PÉREZ, H. D., GONZÁLEZ-RONQUILLO, M., CASTILLO-GALLEGOS, E., 2020: Effects of Three Herbs on Methane Emissions from Beef Cattle. Animals 2020, 10, 1671