TWO NEW projects exploring the impact of algae supplements on methane emissions from livestock have been given the green light to move forward in the UK.
Through a series of trials involving beef and dairy cattle, the researchers plan to assess the ability of supplements to reduce methane emissions, as well as the nutritional value of a variety of locally grown algae, and their effects on animal productivity and meat quality.
During COP6, more than 80 countries signed a global methane pledge to reduce gas emissions by 30% by 2030, bringing ruminant feed discussions to the forefront.
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Algae has long been considered a “superfood” for humans, but adding it to animal feed to reduce the methane released into the atmosphere from burping and gas in ruminants is a relatively new idea.
Early laboratory research from the Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) at Queen’s University, Belfast showed promising results using native Irish and British algae.
Previous research in Australia and the United States found that cattle supplemented with a variety of red algae resulted in methane reductions of up to 80%. However, these red algae grow abundantly in warmer climates and contain high levels of bromoform – known to damage the ozone layer. Seaweed native to the UK and Ireland tends to be brown or green and does not contain bromoform.
British and Irish seaweed are also high in active compounds called phlorotannins, found in red wine and berries, which are antibacterial and improve immunity, which could have additional animal health benefits.
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Now the science of IGFS is moving to the field, with trials on UK farms about to begin, using algae from the Irish and Northern Seas as a feed supplement for livestock.
A three-year project is in partnership with UK supermarket Morrisons and its network of UK beef farmers, who will facilitate on-farm trials. The project also includes the Agrifood and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Northern Ireland, as a partner.
A second project will see IGFS and AFBI join a € 2 million international project to monitor the effects of algae in pasture-based livestock feed. Algae will be added to the grass-based silage during on-farm trials involving dairy cows in NI from early 2022.
IGFS official Sharon Huws said she expected the combined research to show a reduction in GHG emissions of at least 30%: “The science is there. It’s just a matter of providing the necessary data and then implementing it, ”she said. “The use of algae is a natural and sustainable way to reduce emissions and has great potential for expansion. There’s no reason we can’t grow algae – it would protect the biodiversity of our shores as well.
“If British farmers are to achieve a zero carbon model, we really need to start putting this kind of research into practice,” she continued. “I hope that IGFS and AFBI research can soon provide the necessary data and reassure governments to move forward.”
Morrisons Head of Agriculture Sophie Throup added: “As UK agriculture’s biggest customer, we are very aware of our role in supporting and inspiring the farmers we work with to help them. to achieve their objectives in terms of sustainable agriculture.
“By supporting this research at Queen’s and AFBI, we are testing this natural approach to reducing environmental emissions and improving the quality of beef products.