Make that with hay, grain — and a dash of seaweed

Research shows ingredient reduces methane

As farmers try to do their part in reducing their carbon footprint and the impact of climate change, new research could one day bring a sea change to what producers feed cattle — literally.

Keith Degenhardt, an Alberta mixed farmer from Hughenden, spoke Thursday in Red Deer about leading research being done, mainly in Australia, and some in Prince Edward Island, that could see prairie farmers eventually feeding their cattle seaweed.

“We (farmers) have now entered this new era of reducing atmospheric carbon through the carbon levy which, because it’s costing us, we will use less carbon,” Degenhardt said, speaking at the Alberta Agriculture Economics Association conference.

The trial in Australia is showing that seaweed being fed to cattle is significantly reducing methane — one of the greenhouse gases affecting climate.

The Australia Broadcasting Network broadcast a story last fall about a professor at James Cook University involved in a study that showed adding a small amount of a particular type of dried seaweed to a cow’s diet can reduce the amount of methane it produces by 99 per cent.

Farming in Canada accounts for about 10 per cent of greenhouse gases emission but when things farmers don’t control, such as food processing, are added in, it amounts to about 30 per cent, Degenhardt said.

The seaweed study is showing promise and is at the very early stages, but if it proves to be consistent it should be a huge benefit for the cattle and pork industry, he said.

Funding this type of research would help figure out the active compounds in seaweed, he said, adding there are many questions: Is there enough seaweed to go around? Are the compounds found anywhere other than in the seaweed? Can they be produced in the lab.

“It’s one of the opportunities we’re going to have to pursue in our investments,” Degenhardt said.

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