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HomeFarmweek NewsStudy into effects of seaweed in cow diet on greenhouse gases

Study into effects of seaweed in cow diet on greenhouse gases

Scientists are investigating seaweed in cow diets as a means of reducing greenhouse gases.

Researchers André Brito and Alexandra Contosta are leading a University of New Hampshire project at an organic dairy research farm in Lee and the Fairchild Dairy Teaching and Research Center in Durham, US.

The agricultural industry is said to be responsible for 10 per cent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Livestock, especially ruminants such as cattle, represent more than a quarter of the emissions of methane, which is produced as part of the normal digestive processes.

Scientific innovation in feed management could help reduce these environmental effects in a cost-effective manner.

The first project, led by the University of Vermont, will focus on using different species of seaweed as an alternative feed in organic dairy management.

Although feeding seaweed to cows is common in the organic dairy industry, only wild-harvested, dried, ground kelp meal (Ascophyllum nodosum) is widely available.

The organic aquaculture industry farms numerous different species and has the capacity to process the harvest to preserve its bioactive compounds and dietary quality.

“Seaweeds are loaded with bioactive metabolites ranging from polyphenols to antioxidants to trace minerals, which may interact to improve animal health and productivity,” said Professor Brito.

“However, there is limited information of which native seaweeds are best suited to be incorporated in organic dairy diets and to mitigate methane emissions.

“Our project will help deliver this information to dairy producers,” said Brito, an associate professor of dairy cattle nutrition and management.

“One of the unique aspects of this project is our focus on how seaweed supplements might affect the flow of nutrients from manure to soils and then back to the forages that cows eat.

“It is not known how compounds within the seaweed might change the nutrient profile of manure, which has implications for soil health,” said Prof Contosta, research assistant professor with the UNH Earth Systems Research Center at the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space.

A second project, led by the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and Colby College, is investigating the use of algae-based feed supplements in conventional dairy industries to balance quality milk production with environmental, economic, and social sustainability.

The five-year $10 million grant was awarded as part of the US Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture Systems Programme.

Previously, professors Brito and Contosta collaborated with New England scientists on a $3 million grant from the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund to investigate reducing methane emissions of lactating dairy cows by supplementing their diet with red seaweeds native from the Gulf of Maine.

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