Recent studies have found that using seaweed to feed livestock could significantly reduce the amount of methane cows produce. One of the weeds that has been fronted for this purpose is the red seaweed Asparagopsis taxiformis. The weed has been used to develop a cow feed additive known as Brominata.
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Brominata was developed by Straus Family Creamery, an organic dairy farm in Marine County, California. The farm made headlines last fall when it started testing the weed to see whether it could help reduce the output of their animals. The trials were successful, with the additive leading up to a 52% reduction in enteric methane emissions. In one cow, methane gas production was reduced by up to 92%. This is an indication that the additive could be scaled to significantly reduce methane release in cows.
Although the percentage of methane in the atmosphere is much smaller compared to C02, methane gas is more destructive to the environment. Methane gas only makes up 0.00017% of atmospheric gases, but it traps up to 80 times more heat than CO2 over a 20-year period.
“My vision and goal is to prove that [dairy farms] are an asset to the community. It’s about being able to show that livestock have an important role in the future,” said Albert Straus, founder of Straus dairy farms.
One cow belches out about 220 pounds of methane annually. That is equivalent to burning 900 gallons of gasoline. With the huge number of cows farmed in regions such as California, the long-term outcomes of farming can be devastating to the atmosphere.
A California Air Resources Board report released in March categorized seaweed additives in animal feeds as one of the key strategies to meeting dairy-based greenhouse targets. While seaweed additives have been fronted as one of the possible farming-based methane polution solutions, there are many challenges.
The biggest problem with the use of seaweed additives has been the energy of production. As is the case with many climate solutions, seaweed processing also consumes a lot of energy. This has caused many problems in regulatory approvals for most products.
Experts say that California still has a long way to go in the quest to cut dairy carbon emissions by half at the end of this decade. However, the report shows that there is progress in the right direction.
Lead image via Pexels