This is The ChangeUnderground for the 14th of February 2022.
I’m your host, Jon Moore
Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!
Seaweed for Feed
An interesting paper has been produced by Meat and Livestock Australia entitled: Asparagopsis feedlot feeding trial. Now if we put aside the feedlot portion of the trial, the seaweed effect is quite remarkable. Asparagopsis is a red seaweed. The results are spectacular.
The amount of Asparagopsis required to eliminate methane was surprisingly low. Supplementing feed with 0.05%, 0.10%, and 0.20% Asparagopsis reduced methane production by 9%, 38% and 98%, respectively.
Let me put that another way. If each kilogram of feed is formulated to the 0.20% figure, that’s a whopping 2 grams per kilo or about 3 kgs per beast per 100 days. Clearly for the worldwide beef industry huge amounts are going to be needed. Here’s the good news, we can grow this stuff in the ocean and sequester carbon as we do so. The Southern Ocean Carbon Company is doing that as we speak off the south coast of Tasmania.
There are always caveats with these newer technologies. From the MLA post:
The bioactive from Asparagopsis, bromoform, can be unsafe if consumed in high amounts, but there was no trace detectable in the meat, kidney or fat tissues of the steers.
This is good news but we need to be aware of the human propensity to misunderstand figures. If 0.20% is good the 0.40% must be doubly as good. Although how doubling could reduce methane production by 196% is a concept I don’t have a handle on. Yet there is that human tendency.
Getting this into a grass fed model is a step further. On smaller herds and in dairy where supplemental feeds are regularly provided then it’s straightforward process. We just require the studies to confirm the efficacy of seaweed supplements to non-feedlot cattle.
As an anecdote, I have fed seaweed meal, free choice, to goats, sheep and poddy calves. The calves had access from the moment we acquired them, the sheep and goats some years after they’d arrived on our place.
The reactions were instructive. The claves just nibbled at the meal from time to time. The sheep and goats copped a whiff of the stuff and nearly knocked me over to get at it. They obviously needed whatever was in it. Iodine is deficient in Australian soils but is common in seaweed so maybe it was that. There could be benefits other than reduced methane emissions. The MLA paper pointed out one such in daily growth weight.
There was no change in feed intake across the different levels of Asparagopsis inclusions into the feed. However, at the inclusion levels of 0.10% and 0.20%, there was an indication of weight gain improvement of 53% and 42%, respectively. Given the small sample size of animals, this needs to be confirmed with further work.
It is though very promising research.
Another area of research I stumbled upon this week relates to the harvest of native grains. That means native Australian grains. Little known outside the indigenous and archeological communities, Australia is the location of the first bread makers. This bread was made by grinding native millet, mixing it with water and baking on hot stones.
The book “Dark Emu” available on audible for which I receive no funds but will recommend because this book is great, goes into great detail on early grind stones and evidence of bread making at least 36,000 years ago.
“That puts Australian baking way beyond anything that’s ever happened anywhere else in the world,” says author Bruce Pascoe. He’s talking about 36,000-year-old grindstones discovered in New South Wales, used by Aboriginal Australians to turn seeds into flours for baking. That’s well ahead of other civilisations that started baking early on, like the Egyptians, who began making bread around 17,000 BC.
Now a program running since 2020 around the town of Narrabri is collecting these ancient grains and other grass seeds in an effort to develop both a new market for these and deeper regenerative farming techniques. The program, as these things should be, is being run by the local indigenous people. There is such a wealth of knowledge, despite what could be classified as a genocidal attempts to destroy First Nations culture and people, held within First Nations survivors, it’s a criminal waste to listen to and include these Nations in the future of regenerative and climate mitigation actions. A culture, or rather a series of interlocking cultures with the knowledge of at least 40,000 years on the continent and probably closer to 60,000 is a resource we’d be foolish to ignore. To do so would be the definition of hubris.
And it’s not just a research program. From the ABC piece entitled: Native grains harvest brings together culture, food and regenerative farming
Black Duck Foods has joined forces with the plant institute to find markets for traditional food growing processes that care for country and could possibly return economic benefits to Indigenous people.
General manager Chris Andrew said it was important the process was led by First Nations people.
“What we want to create is a space that is Aboriginal led, an Aboriginal space that white fellas get invited into, not the other way around which seems to be the norm in most cases,” he said.
And the other thing with many of these grains is they are perennial. This has many advantages, again from the piece:
It’s about putting in a long-living native perennial grass to store carbon, improve biodiversity, to crop, to provide feed for grazing. So there’s multiple benefits.
This doesn’t mean the end of wheat production but it could in the long term. There are efforts underway to produce a perennial wheat too, as explained in a piece from the Land Institute which provides these answers to the question: Why Perennial Wheat?
- Elite lines of perennial wheat currently yield grain about 50-70% that of annual wheat cultivars and we continue to make improvements.
- Some of our perennial wheat plants in Kansas have lived for nine years or more, six years in other locations.
- Twenty of the most promising crosses have been grown in nine different countries to see how particular genetic types vary in performance when grown.
Now millet won’t provide the same bread as those used to sliced white supermarket bread but it could provide a good starting point for really good sourdough mixed grain loaves.
The benefits of perennial grains are many. Way more root development, way less fuel burnt, no annual planting, and soil erosion benefits to boot.
It’s probably time for an episode on the possible ways of building a fully perennial garden/small farm system, so keep your eye out for that one.
Given the doom and gloom of the past few years, from climate issues to the public health on top of all the stuff life throws our way, it’s a tonic to bring these two good news ideas to my listeners. A way around the ruminant methane issue that doesn’t involve lab meats and a complimentary grain production system that could be revolutionary when it comes to regen food production.
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Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back next week.
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Victoria’s first seaweed farm aims to reduce livestock emissions
Asparagopsis feedlot feeding trial
SOUTHERN OCEAN CARBON COMPANY
Native grains harvest brings culture, food, and regenerative farming together
Were Indigenous Australians the world’s first bakers?