Fonterra is expanding a cow methane reduction trial to a further three dairy farms in Tasmania after dosing one 900-cow herd with seaweed extract over the past two years has been promising. Hugh Stringleman spoke to the Australian-based supervisor.
In partnership with Australian company Sea Forest, Fonterra is looking at the potential Asparagopsis seaweed has in reducing methane in a grass-fed farming system.
Sea Forest is growing the seaweed variety, which is found naturally in both Australia and New Zealand, in land-based aquaculture at Triabunna on Tasmania’s east coast.
After laboratory trials Australian scientists believe the treatment could cut methane emissions from cows by 80%, although results are likely to vary in the real world of pasture grazing.
General manager of sustainability for Fonterra in Australia and NZ Jack Holden said the expanded trial is on the safe supplementation of cows and dairy consumers and to ensure there is no impact on milk taste and quality.
“Over the past two years, 900 dairy cows on a farm have been fed small amounts of the seaweed supplement and the results have been promising at each stage,” Holden said.
“We are now expanding the trial across three additional farms, to test the supplement’s application at a commercial scale.”
“This will include understanding the practicalities of using the seaweed supplement as part of normal farming operations.
“This is critical because it needs to be easy to implement and beneficial for farmers if we want it to be widely adopted.
“If the trial proves successful, we have agreed with Sea Forest that Fonterra farmers will have first access to the commercial Asparagopsis solution.”
Sea Forest principal Sam Elsom said the young company is growing quickly and has bought another 30ha in which to expand aquaculture.
“Asparagopsis is a common seaweed native to the waters of Tasmania and NZ, and we’re the first in the world to cultivate it at a commercial scale through both marine and land-based aquaculture,” Elsom said.
“We needed a food industry partner to help us take this to a commercial scale, and we chose Fonterra because of its commitment to sustainability and innovation.
“We’re looking forward to working with Fonterra on the next phase, and although we’re still in trial phases, we believe this has potential.”
Fonterra believes there will be no single solution to the methane challenge, with Asparagopsis one promising method under investigation.
Others include dairy cultures such as Kowbucha, the Royal DSM product Bovaer and a trial with MPI, DairyNZ and Nestlé on plantain in the diet of cows to reduce nitrogen.
Holden said the Future Feed consortium of CSIRO, Meat & Livestock Australia and the James Cook University has other livestock trials of Asparagopsis feeding under way.
From out of the seaweed, substances containing bromine inhibit methane through the B12 enzyme in the final stages of digestion by gut microbes and divert energy into bodily metabolisation.
Sea Forest, as an Asparagopsis grower, also has a licence from Future Feed and in commercial use of the seaweed supplement, a figure of $1.50/kg royalty has been mentioned for the intellectual property.
In the commercial dairy trial in Tasmania to date no effects on animal health, human health or milk composition have been observed, he said.
“From the initial trial, we can say that milk volumes and milk solids have not been affected,” Holden said.
“It has to be at least production neutral for farmers to enable us to progress the work.”
Should there be energy gains from methane inhibition, then it might result in more milk production or a steady milk production from less feed intake.
“We are looking for a possible feed use efficiency gain,” he said.
The feeding level is 0.2% of the cow’s dry matter intake, presently dissolved into canola oil and mixed with the grain supplements fed to cows at milking time.
“We will also receive from Future Feed advice as to how to feed, for how long and at what rate in order to get so much methane reduction.”
Practical challenges exist as to administering seaweed supplements to pasture-only cows and these will be addressed in the next, larger trials stage.
Fonterra will work through whatever regulatory requirements that may be necessary in the countries of dairy production and dairy product consumption, Holden said.
“If we provide information that fills in gaps for whatever regulatory process is under way, then we are doing our job,” he said.
He said other dairy companies around the world are feeding into the body of knowledge on methane inhibition and that Fonterra is okay with the pace of its work and the knowledge that no one is ahead of it.