Unlocking the potential of UK-grown seaweed as part of new research could see used in the production of some ruminant animal feeds.
Seaweed is on track to become a potential replacement for some ingredients in the production of ruminant animal feeds, thanks to claims of offering associated benefits from improved meat quality to a reduced carbon footprint.
With seaweed is already being successfully utilised by some ruminants in specialist cases, a new Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) involving Davidsons Animal Feeds and the James Hutton Institute, funded by Innovate UK which provides Government funding for various industries, is exploring the possibilities seaweed could offer to commercial livestock producers.
The project was initially planned as one which would look primarily into the protein content of seaweed as a comparative to soya bean, but it is now looking into widening its remit to scrutinise a host of other potential benefits it may have to offer.
Beginning in March 2019, the three year project will look at the strengths and weaknesses of a selection of different strains of seaweed.
The aim being to produce prototype feeds suitable for production on a mass-scale, with the potential to be marketed commercially in the future.
KTP associate David Beattie, who is working between the two organisations to carry out the project, said there was existing evidence to show that combining different strains of seaweed into animal feeds in the right way could offer benefits.
These included improved immunity performance, meat quality and shelf life, as well as animal aesthetics like coat shine.
He said one of the biggest draws though was the potential seaweed had to offer the industry around reducing its reliance on feed inputs, especially soya, imported from overseas which could work to reduce its carbon footprint.
Mr Beattie said: “As it stands, the livestock feed industry is heavily reliant on soya imports, but with the promising protein profile some of the seaweeds have initially shown, some of them comparable to soya, this could shift.
“Look across the world to continents like Asia and the seaweed industry is booming.
“Seaweed has the potential to provide a lot of biomass, but in this area of Europe this has not been looked into in depth yet.”
Seaweed was an ‘under-exploited’ industry in Scotland at present, according to Mr Beattie.
“If we are able to help this industry develop, there is definitely the scope for Scotland to produce a lot more seaweed than it currently does which brings with it potential employment opportunities and a benefit to the Scottish economy.”
There is also evidence for the potential for seaweeds to significantly reduce methane emissions from ruminants, but this is an ongoing area of research, and may be investigated, Mr Beattie said, upon production of a suitable seaweed plus feed blend.
“The project is still in the experimental phase, and having identified a lot of components in the seaweed which need more investigation, the next step will be to try and develop a few different variations, to see how they work in a trial environment and see how animals perform on it.”