The podcast discusses the discovery of a type of seaweed that prevents the combining of carbon and hydrogen thus creating methane, a greenhouse gas, in ruminants.
Joan Salwen has taken the initial research and has an active company, Blue Ocean Barns, that is producing their own highly productive version of the seaweed, distributing it to dairy farmers, and optimizing it for wider spread commercialization.
- Joan came from a background of working on a farm.
- She spent many years at Accenture.
- She ran a girls' school focused on STEM subjects.
- Then wondered if the fact that cattle produce highly potent greenhouse gas. Joan went to Stanford to determine if this was true and, if true, discover what had been tried, what worked, what failed, and how to further her grandfather's work of farmers being stewards of the land and planet.
Is there a Seaweed that Can Reduce Methane Production?
- After reading a lot of academic papers, she discovered a report from Australia that had found a particular seaweed had reduced emissions.
- The research had never gone on to prove the concept or been replicated.
- She started getting funds together to create a proof of concept.
- The answer is yes. There is a seaweed that prevents the carbon and hydrogen from forming in the gut of the ruminant.
- Instead of methane, the ruminant burps out more hydrogen.
Is There an Efficiency Improvement?
- The carbon and other nutrients form volatile fatty acids. These provide sugar and, thus, energy to the cattle.
- The additional energy provided to the cow is a net bonus in that she can use more of the grass and feed for energy.
- This means farmers can feed their cattle less and get the same results.
- The seaweed is safe for the cows.
- Seaweed is effective in driving down the production of greenhouse gases.
- There have been limited trials on increased productivity, but two have seen double-digit gains in feed conversion efficiency. Another one has yet to see an increase.
- Further research is ongoing.
- The particular seaweed they have been using has never been domesticated.
- The first question they needed to answer was if it could be farmed and how to optimize it for the best production.
- They have been playing with hours and color of light, pH levels, salinity, etc.
- Growing seaweed in Hawaii.
- Hawaii was chosen because they have pumps that pull up nutrient-rich deep seawater. This water is shared by several academics and agriculturists.
Asparagopsis & Bromanada
- Asparagopsis is the original version of the seaweed.
- They are using their own version, called bromanata. It is much better than the natural version.
- They are producing an organic product with no additional inputs and also are trying out batches with auxiliary inputs to see if yields and efficiency can be improved.
- Currently producing enough per acre to feed 7,000 cattle. A critical breakpoint for profitability seems like 10,000 cattle per acre.
- To supply the 100 million cattle in the US, they will need around 4,500 acres of seaweed.
- The next biggest challenge is getting this out to farmers widely.
- They are working with corporations that have proposed big and bold climate promises in the ag industry to roll it out. These corporations want to pay because they need to meet their goals.
- The farmers in their supply chains are currently receiving the bromanata for free.
- Challenge with convincing farmers that seaweed won't damage their cattle. The upside of getting one farmer onboard and seeing positive results is that they talk to other farmers and spread the word naturally.
- They are starting with dairy but plan to move on to beef cattle eventually. The challenge with beef cattle is getting the feed out to them. Dairy cows come in daily for milking, and you can feed them the seaweed. Beef cattle are out on the range for months at a time.
Carbon Neutral Dairy
- She believes there is a future where dairies are carbon neutral.
- The Strauss family in Northern California will be carbon neutral by the end of 2023. He's done all the vehicle, digester, composting, carbon farming, cover crops, etc. This is another arrow in his quiver to get there.
The argument for Less Cattle
- It makes sense, but she believes people should have a choice.
- A lot of countries that have growing middle classes are going to want to have the ability and luxury of eating more meat. In that regard, she sees the idea of everyone becoming a vegetarian as unrealistic.