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Division of Food Production and Society

Strategies in grass silage production to mitigate enteric CH4 emissions from ruminants

Photo: Håvard Steinshamn
Active Last updated: 18.04.2023
End: jul 2023
Start: aug 2019

The overall aim of the project is to develop strategies grass silage production that reduce enteric methane emissions in ruminants

Labsiloprodukjson på Fureneset
Start - end date 01.08.2019 - 31.07.2023
Project manager at Nibio Ola Flaten
Division Division of Food Production and Society
Department Grassland and Livestock

About 2/3 of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Norwegian agriculture come from ruminants, and the main part of the emissions is methane from the ruminants' digestion. Forage makes up a large proportion of the animals' feed ration. It is also a national goal to increase the proportion of forage and the proportion of domestic produced feed in the ruminant's diet. Thus, it will have a major impact on GHG emissions from agriculture if it is possible to uncover the properties of a low-emission forage.

Grass silage, which is the dominant forage source, is produced in many ways, which results in great variation in the properties of the silage. It can be botanical composition, digestibility, and fermentation quality. These are properties that may affect enteric methane emissions from animals. At the same time, these must be properties that can be used to reduce methane emissions in practice and be economic viable


NIBIO's role in the project is:

  • to test the effect of gassland type, cut, degree of wilting and fermentation pattern of silage on enteric methane production. This is done by making silage from a field experiment and measuring methane production from the silage in bottles with added rumen fluid from dairy cows
  • to contribute with planning and interpretation of results from a feeding experiment with dairy cows where different grass silage types are tested with regard to the production of milk and enteric methane
  • to make an economic and environmental analysis of various measures in the production and utilization of silage to reduce enteric methane emissions from milk production

Publications in the project

To document


Mitigating enteric methane (CH4) emissions is crucial as ruminants account for 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. We hypothesised that less frequent harvesting, use of crops with lower WSC concentration, ensiling at low crop dry matter (DM) and extensive lactic acid fermentation would reduce in vitro CH4 production. Timothy (T), timothy + red clover mixture (T + RC) or perennial ryegrass (RG), cut either two or three times per season, was wilted to 22.5% or 37.5% DM and ensiled with or without formic acid-based additive. Silages were analysed for chemical composition and fermentation products. In vitro CH4 production was measured using an automated gas in vitro system. Methane production was, on average, 2.8 mL/g OM lower in the two-cut system than in the three-cut system (P < 0.001), and 1.9 mL/g OM lower in T than in RG (P < 0.001). Silage DM did not affect CH4 production (P = 0.235), but formic acid increased CH4 production by 1.2 mL/g OM compared to the untreated silage (P = 0.003). In conclusion, less frequent harvesting and extensive silage fermentation reduce in vitro CH4 production, while RG in comparison to T resulted in higher production of CH4.

To document


Grass-clover silage constitutes a large part of ruminant diets in Northern and Western Europe, but the impact of silage quality on methane (CH4) production is largely unknown. This study was conducted to identify the quality attributes of grass silage associated with variation in CH4 yield. We expected that silage nutrient concentrations and silage fermentation products would affect CH4 yield, and that these factors could be used to predict the methanogenic potential of the silages. Round bales (n = 78) of grass and grass-clover silage from 37 farms in Norway were sampled, incubated, and screened for in vitro CH4 yield, i.e. CH4 production expressed on the basis of incubated organic matter (CH4-OM) and digestible OM (CH4-dOM) using sheep. Concentration of indigestible neutral detergent fiber (iNDF) was quantified using the in situ technique. The data were subjected to correlation and principal component analyses. Stepwise multiple regression was used to model methanogenic potential of silages. Among all investigated silage composition variables, neutral detergent fiber (aNDFom) and water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC) concentrations obtained the greatest correlations to CH4-OM (r = −0.63 and r = 0.57, respectively, P < 0.001), while concentration of iNDF negatively correlated with CH4-OM (r = −0.48, P < 0.001). In vivo organic matter digestibility (OMD) and concentration of ammonia-N (NH3-N) in silages were also correlated to CH4-OM (r = 0.44 and r = −0.32, P < 0.001 and P < 0.01, respectively). The stepwise regression using CH4-OM as response variable included aNDFom, WSC, iNDF, silage propionic acid and pH in descending order. The stepwise regression using CH4-dOM as response variable included WSC, aNDFom and iNDF in descending order. Among in vitro rumen short chain fatty acids (SCFA), molar proportion of butyrate was the most prominent in increasing CH4-OM and CH4-dOM (r = 0.23 and r = 0.36, P < 0.05 and P < 0.01, respectively), while molar proportion of propionate was the most prominent SCFA in reducing CH4-OM and CH4-dOM (r = −0.23 and r = −0.26, respectively, P < 0.05). Regression models that account for silage quality attributes can be used to predict CH4 yield from silages with a coefficient of determination (R2) between 0.33 (CH4-dOM) and 0.65 (CH4-OM). In conclusion, concentration of WSC increased in vitro CH4-OM and CH4-dOM, while concentration of aNDFom and iNDF decreased CH4-OM and CH4-dOM in grass silages.