Seaweed: A New Avenue for Methane Reduction

Innovation

Find out how Fonterra is exploring the possible benefits of seaweed in reducing on-farm methane emissions.

30 September 2020

3 min

#Sustainability #Global #Innovation

The New Zealand Dairy Industry, and its farmers, are committed to reducing methane emissions

Reducing methane emissions from cows has been one of the toughest challenges to face the dairy industry for more than a decade. Fonterra & NZMP are committed to making a positive impact on methane emissions by having a regenerative mindset, reducing environmental impacts and working in partnership with others.

In addition, consumers are educating themselves on how to reduce their personal carbon-footprint. As a result, their product requirements and standards are changing, requiring increased levels of security and transparency around the products they are consuming.

New Zealand has one of the lowest Greenhouse Gas Footprints per litre of milk produced in the world.

However, Fonterra is always looking for innovative ways to continue to build on its sustainability commitments, particularly on how to further reduce emissions from cows. Fonterra has partnered with Sea Forest to execute new research designed to understand if including seaweed in cow’s diet can help reduce greenhouse gases.

Early testing with seaweed (Asparagosis) reveals promising results

Asparagopsis taxiformis is a species of seaweed native to Tasmania, South Australia and the South Island of New Zealand. Laboratory testing led by CSIRO has shown that this strand of seaweed has the potential to reduce a cow’s methane emissions by more than 80 per cent1.

Early testing shows the potential for these emissions to be reduced by incorporating natural seaweed into cows’ diets, so we are keen to see if those test results can be replicated in dairy herds at scale.

Jack Holden | Fonterra Australia Sustainability Manager

An upcoming trial will use Asparagopsis as a supplement feed for herds of dairy cows in Tasmania during the coming milk season.

Methane is produced as a by-product of the digestive process of cows. Early research has indicated that incorporating Asparagopsis in the diets of cattle could have the effect of reducing methane produced as a by-product of digestion. The seaweed functions as an enzyme inhibitor that could stop the processes that produces methane in the animal’s digestive system.

There remain some challenges going forward

Whilst seaweed has the potential to become an exciting solution to an age-old problem, certain challenges need to be considered. Whilst found locally, the Asparagopsis seaweed will have to be farmed and harvested at large scales in order to meet the millions of tons required to significantly offset methane emissions.

Sustainable solutions to the long-term harvest of this species will also need to be established. Research is being undertaken on how to develop farming and quality best practice around seaweed harvesting, made more challenging by the plant’s delicate nature.

This is one initiative of many in Fonterra’s quest to reduce emissions

This is one of numerous initiatives being undertaken by Fonterra to reduce methane emissions and become more sustainable. The team at Fonterra’s Research and Development Centre have also been looking at reducing emissions through the development of new fermentations, dubbed “KowbuchaTM”, which could have the potential to “switch-off” the bacteria that creates methane in cows.

Fonterra’s New Zealand on-farm carbon footprint is approximately one third of the global average2.  Methane reduction is just one of the many sustainable solutions that Fonterra continues to work towards as part of its commitment to sustainable dairying. This commitment is carried through to each and every NZMP ingredient through NZMP’s end to end supply chain.

  • [1] Kinley, R. D., de Nys, R., Vucko, M. J., Machado, L., & Tomkins, N. W. (2016). The red macroalgae Asparagopsis taxiformis is a potent natural antimethanogenic that reduces methane production during in vitro fermentation with rumen fluid. Animal Production Science, 282-289. Available from from: https://www.publish.csiro.au/an/an15576
  • [2] Ledgard, S.F. et al. 2020. Temporal, spatial, and management variability in the carbon footprint of New Zealand milk. Journal of Dairy Science Vol 3 Issue 1: 1031-1046