Friday, October 8, 2021

Algae feed for dairy cows gets research funding

 The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is granting $10 million to a number of researchers aiming to use algae in dairy cow rations to reduce methane emissions.

Algae could also become a feed source that would reduce the demand for crops and associated environmental impacts.

The five-year grant from USDA Sustainable Agriculture Systems Program will support a research team led by Nichole Price with Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and Colby College. 

“This grant allows us to bring together a multidisciplinary team of world-class experts in their fields,” said Price, the project director. 

“This is a team that has already been working well together for several years on finding pointed solutions for sustainability within the cattle industry. Now, we can expand our scope and work together on a whole-systems approach to sustainably enhance U.S. milk production.”

The project team includes researchers from Syracuse University, University of New Hampshire, University of Vermont, Clarkson University, and William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute. The collaboration will also support substantial teaching and extension projects.

Recent research has shown that certain algae-based feed additives reduce cows’ methane-emitting burps, and can be produced with a lower carbon footprint than land crops. They also allow for increased potential to recycle and recapture nutrients in the feed production process. 

Further studies show that microscopic algae can offer similar benefits, and could provide a scalable solution for farms of all sizes.

To turn these scientific findings into an economic opportunity, a team of economists and other social scientists will look at how to integrate the product into the supply chain, make it profitable for each stakeholder, and foster its adoption through community outreach and decision-making tools.

“The supplement may work perfectly, but it can only be a real solution if supply chain actors will buy it and farmers adopt it,” said University of Vermont Professor of Community Development and Applied Economics David Conner, a collaborator on the project. “In order to succeed, we have to make sure the entire process is economically resilient and can survive market shocks, support dairy production, and promote a healthy agricultural economy.”

Feed trials will investigate the impact of algal ingredients on an array of cows and farms. By testing supplements with feeds available in different geographic areas, researchers can develop a nutritious additive that is widely applicable and more impactful. 

In conjunction, the researchers will also evaluate the supplement’s impact on the cows’ wellbeing.