[video in on-line article]
Feeding Cows Seaweed Could Substantially Reduce Greenhouse Gases
CP | By Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press
Posted: 12/02/2016 11:49 am EST Updated: 12/02/2016 11:49 am EST
SEACOW POND, P.E.I. — A P.E.I. dairy farmer's attempt to save money on
feed — he fed his cows seaweed from a nearby beach — has led to a
discovery that could bring a substantial reduction in greenhouse gases
A researcher found the seaweed reduced the methane in the cows' burps
and farts, a key contributor to climate change.
"Considering that agriculture is one of the big contributors to the
global greenhouse gas inventory, it's pretty huge,'' said agricultural
scientist Rob Kinley.
More than 10 years ago, Joe Dorgan was a dairy farmer in Seacow Pond,
near the northwestern tip of the province, with many of his cows grazing
near the shore.
He decided to convert to an organic dairy farm and, as a way to save
money, he started feeding seaweed to the cows as their source of
minerals and vitamins.
"You live right on the beach here and our ancestors used seaweed for
everything, for their animals, for their fertilizer, the whole thing,''
The seaweed is plentiful and washes up on the local beaches where it is
gathered using rakes hauled by horses.
"This is 100 per cent natural. As the storms toss it ashore on the
beach, we gather it, dry it, process it and feed it,'' he said.
Started selling seaweed product to other farmers
Dorgan said the seaweed-fed cows were healthier and produced more milk.
That's when the light went on and he saw a business opportunity.
He sold his herd, and sought to get his seaweed product approved by the
Canadian Food Inspection Agency for sale to other farmers.
Kinley, then at Dalhousie University's faculty of Agriculture in Truro,
N.S., was asked to test the animal feed that Dorgan was producing.
Kinley discovered that the product reduced the methane in the cows'
gaseous output by about 20 per cent.
He wondered if there might be other seaweeds around the world that might
be even more effective at reducing the methane.
"That's when I started the global search that brought me to Australia
looking for that super seaweed, and it didn't take long before I found
it,'' he said in an interview from Townsville, Australia, where he works
for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.
"In the laboratory it was a bit of a shocker when I first found it
because I thought the instruments weren't working properly because I
couldn't find methane at all. It was reducing methane below the
detection limits of the instruments we were using. I had never seen that
before,'' he said.
Agriculture is one of the big contributors to the global greenhouse gas
inventory — anywhere from 15 to 25 per cent.
The cows, sheep and other animals being served the feed still burp and
fart — but it's almost methane free. (Kinley said 90 per cent of the
methane actually comes from the burps, not the flatulence.)
Right now, there's not enough of the particular seaweed readily
available to make it commercially viable, but Kinley said he's trying to
convince some companies to get involved.
"What we need to do is find companies that already grow seaweed that are
willing to change their ways. Once we can show them that it is
economically viable and environmentally responsible to do so, that
shouldn't be a problem,'' he said.
Yukon sledders feeding seaweed to dogs
Most farmed seaweed is now used for cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and
fertilizers. However, Kinley said growing seaweed for animal feed would
become more attractive if a carbon value is attached to it.
Meanwhile Dorgan's company, North Atlantic Organics, is trying to keep
up with demand for its products — shipping across Canada and the United
States, and some overseas.
It's even being supplied to dog sledders in the Yukon, who feed it to
their dogs, he said.
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