NORTHERN IRELAND, Belfast. As Cop26 continues to debate methane – with the US And EU having pledged to reduce agricultural methane outputs from ruminant livestock by upwards of 30% by 2030 – scientists at the Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) at Queen’s University Belfast are to feed seaweed to farm animals in a bid to slash methane by at least 30%.
UK and Irish seaweeds are also rich in active compounds called phlorotannins, found in red wine and berries, which are anti-bacterial and improve immunity so could have additional health benefits for animals. Now the IGFS science is moving into the field, with trials on UK farms about to begin, using seaweed sourced from the Irish and North Seas as a feed supplement for cattle.
One 3-year project is in partnership with the UK supermarket Morrisons and its network of British beef farmers who will facilitate farm trials. The project also includes the Agrifood and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), in Northern Ireland, as a partner.
A second project sees IGFS and AFBI join a €2 mill., international project - led by Irish agency An Teagasc - to monitor the effects of seaweed in the diet of pasture-based livestock. Seaweed will be added to grass-based silage on farm trials involving dairy cows in NI from early 2022.
As well as assessing methane emissions of the beef and dairy cattle, these projects will assess the nutritional value of a variety of homegrown seaweeds, their effects on animal productivity and meat quality. IGFS lead Sharon Huws, Professor of Animal Science and Microbiology within the School of Biological Sciences, said she expected the combined research to evidence a reduction in GHG emissions of at least 30%.
Agriculture accounts for around 10% of all UK GHG emissions. Within this, beef farming is the most carbon-intensive, with methane, which cows produce as they digest, a major component. At a NI level, methane accounts for almost a quarter of GHG emissions, with 80% of that from agriculture.
The above projects form part of the Queen's-AFBI Alliance – a strategic partnership between Queen’s University and AFBI to maximise science and innovation capacity in NI to meet global challenges, such as carbon-neutral farming.