A cow in a feedlot, eating.

Australian seaweed touted to cut livestock emissions by 90 percent comes to market

After years of frenetic research and rapid commercial licensing, forage farms can now source asparagopsis, a native Australian seaweed touted to reduce methane emissions by “90 to 95 percent” when fed to cows and sheep.

The first global sale of asparagopsis was announced this month by CH4, one of three companies licensed to sell the additive in Australia.

The South Australian meat processor CirPro was the buyer.

“We are very proud to be the first to announce a commercial delivery to the market,” said Adam Main, CH4 Australia Managing Director.

Asparagopsis has been the subject of numerous research trials and an accelerated commercialization effort since it was first identified as a way to reduce methane emissions from ruminants.

CirPro chief Reg Smythe said the Port Pirie facility that will receive the asparagopsis will be fully operational next year.

“We are starting with relatively small numbers and growing in line with CH4’s ability to produce the supplement,” he said.

Ruminants, including cows, sheep and goats, produce methane through digestion, which is responsible for about 10 percent of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions. according to the CSIRO

CH4 Australia’s Adam Main (left) and CH4 Global chief executive Steve Meller.Supplied: CH4 Global

Seaweed for sale

The sale comes after four years of research and development by the CSIRO, Meat and Livestock Australia and James Cook University.

The feed additive asparagopsis was patented in 2020 and production was quickly scaled up.

Mr Main said CH4 would focus exclusively on large-scale feedlots and meat processors before expanding its offering to other types of farms in the future.

“We are targeting the animal feed industry here in Australia, but our operation in New Zealand is definitely looking at the dairy market,” he said.

“We also need to grow to be able to deliver our technology to those animals that humans see less and don’t get supplementary feeding — that’s the broad agricultural sector.”

Australia first?

The international patent rights to sell asparagopsis as a feed additive are held by FutureFeed, an offshoot of the state-owned CSIRO with private backing from Woolworths Group, GrainCorp, Harvest Road and Sparklabs Cultiv8.

Licenses to grow and sell the seaweed, which is endemic to Australia and New Zealand, have been granted abroad.

If the emissions-reducing potential is realized, the international commercial market for asparagopsis could be worth billions of dollars a year.

While Australian producers have the first-mover advantage, the international licensees, including CH4, are working to produce it abroad.

“The Supply for All the Livestock and All the Sheep” [in Australia] could be from South Australia,” said Mr Main.

“The focus should always be – and it is for me too – to create an industry here that can meet Australia’s needs, but is also a major exporter.

“However, to have the full reach to get this to as many cows as possible in a short time, we want to replicate this elsewhere in the world.”

Red seaweed floating in water.
The striking red seaweed is endemic to Australian waters.Delivered: Sea Forest

Work in progress

Research suggests that very little asparagopsis needs to be included in a ruminant’s diet to lower its methane emissions.

“Suppose a cow’s dry matter intake is 14 pounds per day,” said Mr. Main.

It is difficult to determine how much asparagopsis an animal is consuming outside a pasture, as is measuring how much the feed additive actually reduces methane emissions on a farm.

Meat and Livestock Australia continues to work on a range of tools and technologies for producers to cost-effectively reduce emissions and increase productivity by demonstrating environmental awareness, said general manager Jason Strong.

Those credentials could eventually take the form of marketing for meat products or government-backed carbon credits.

“The technology is currently being assessed by the Emissions Reduction Fund for acceptance by the government’s carbon credit scheme,” said Mr Main.

“We don’t rely on carbon credit schemes, but we think it will be part of the overall mix,” said Mr Smythe.

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