Feeding daffodil extract to cows could reduce methane emissions

Can daffodils solve the planet's methane problem?
Can daffodils solve the planet's methane problem? Copyright JACQUELINE DORMER/AP
By Luke Hanrahan
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A four-year trial is underway in the UK to determine whether feeding a compound found in daffodils to cows could reduce their production of the greenhouse gas, methane.


Somewhere in the Black Mountains of Wales, an unlikely crop is being cultivated.

Daffodils, which are grown at higher altitudes, hold a secret power. They produce a crucial medical compound that is a key component in a drug used in the management of Alzheimer's.

But that's not all. Recent studies reveal another astonishing benefit. Early evidence shows high altitude daffodils produce an extract which, when fed to cows, has the unique ability to reduce their methane emissions.

The challenge is to get flower crops to grow consistently on mountain tops.

“We found when we tried to grow daffodils here, all the traditional practices from the daffodil industry didn't work. In the end, we had to throw out the rulebook and completely reinvent the process from start to finish," said Kevin Stephens, daffodil farmer and owner of Agroceutical.

The daffodil is synonymous with Wales. It is the country’s national flower. But the last place one would expect it to be grown is in the Black Mountains.

 Although challenging, the reason is because these conditions are perfect for producing Galantamine, a compound that is crucial when it comes to reducing methane.

“It became apparent very quickly that daffodils are packed full of very powerful bioactive compounds," said Stephens.

The potential it holds to change the world on multiple levels is incredibly exciting and very scary

Cows and other farm animals contribute to approximately 14% of human-induced climate emissions. Scientists are hopeful that, as well as reducing emissions, daffodil extract can make animal digestive systems more efficient.

“What we also expect to see is an improvement in protein utilisation, which means we can start looking at animal diets and perhaps reduce the protein they’re receiving because they can get more from what they’re being fed. That’s also a really promising benefit from this additive," said Dr. Alison Bond, Technical Services Manager at Rumenco, a supplier of ruminant feed solutions.

The British government is now backing a four-year trial, which, if successful, could have profound implications.

"It's quite an unreal situation with what we have in front of us now. The potential it holds to change the world on multiple levels is incredibly exciting and very scary," said Stephens.

While not the solution to climate change, if successful, this trial has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help slow the increasing global temperatures.

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