Greenhouse gas efforts target cows and their diets

The government is confronting the emissions from agriculture and seeking to mitigate them to reduce greenhouse gases.

One major source is cattle. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that each adult cow produces 80 to 110 kilos of methane annually. Costa Rica has 1.5 million cows, according to the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería. So that is about 150 million kilos of methane a year.

Cows, sheep and goats are ruminants and can eat and digest vegetable matter other animals cannot. That is the reason they produce methane through a form of fermentation in the stomachs.

The Costa Rican agriculture ministry estimated that cattle produce about 39 percent of the unwelcome gases.

Vegetarians, of course, would solve the problem by eliminating cattle and hamburgers. But the agricultural ministry is taking a traditional path urging ranchers to improve their pastures and to rotate the cattle from one location to another. The ministry also is urging the reduction of nitrogen fertilizers on pasture land and improved nutrients for cattle.

That is one way of reducing the methane emissions, although many Costa Rican cattle survive on very poor pasture and sometimes no pasture at all.

The ministry in conjunction with Cámara de Ganaderos del Caribe and the Federación de Criadores de Ganado de Costa Rica invited a Brazilian expert, Humberto Sorio, who participated in training with 1,500 livestock producers during his time here. That is a small percentage because the ministry estimates that there are about 47,000 fincas with 1.8 million hectares dedicated to cattle pasture.

The ministry is promoting the views of Andre Voisin, who produced a book on his theories of pasture management in 1959, The book is called in English “Grass Productivity.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that  “better grazing management and dietary supplementation have been identified as the most effective ways to improve efficiency and reduce emissions from this sector because they improve animal nutrition and reproductive efficiency.”

And that is basically what the Costa Rican ministry is urging.

So if the cattle eat better, they produce less noxious gases.

The ministry also has its eyes on other forms of agriculture as the country seeks to become carbon neutral by 2021.

It said that 24 percent of greenhouse gases come from the production of coffee, 11 percent from sugar cane production and 10 percent from rice farming.

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