Northern Ireland is testing the potential of willow leaves to reduce methane emissions from livestock.
Willow is one of a number of sustainable, natural resources, including seaweed, which is being investigated at Queen’s University Belfast to find a way of cutting agricultural emissions.
Research is being conducted by the Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) who hope to see a reduction of emissions up to 50 per cent.
The study aims to evaluate the nutritive value of different willow tree leaves and their potential to reduce emissions due to bioactive compounds (condensed tannins).
Results will be compared with alfafa – a forage containing no tannins. Researchers say the results could show a decline in methane and ammonia emissions by at least 30 per cent.
The project will take willow leaves and branches (up to 18mm diameter) and feed to sheep to see the effect on emissions. Both ammonia and methane emissions will be measured, along with nutrient value, digestibility in the indoors trial.
Another aspect of the project will assess the efficacy of willow trees as part of ‘agroforestry’, where trees are grown in pasture areas so animals can graze naturally on the foliage.
Agroforestry has become popular in places like New Zealand as part of a move towards ‘regenerative farming.’
IGFS lead on this project, Dr. Katerina Theodoridou said willow has great early potential but evidence is needed from the farms.
“Measuring the effect of the bio-active compounds on emissions will give us urgently needed evidence that can be used in a practical way to make agriculture more sustainable,” she added.