Minister Mary-Anne Thomas
Victorian Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas says hello to a dairy cow taking part in a red seaweed feed trial at the Ellinbank Smart Farm. photograph michelle slater

By Michelle Slater
Ellinbank dairy cows are taking part in a trial to chow down on a special species of seaweed in an attempt to reduce their greenhouse gases.

Ellinbank Smart Farm researchers are feeding dairy cattle Tasmanian-grown red seaweed (Asparagopsis) which has shown great potential to significantly reduce methane emissions.
Agriculture Victoria research director, Professor Joe Jacobs said red seaweed has reduced methane by 90 per cent when fed to cattle in feedlots.

“Here we want to understand the potential to reduce methane emissions and also the impact on milk production,” Prof Jacobs told Gippsland Farmer.

“We still want the animals to produce milk cost effectively to make this a viable option for dairy farmers.”

The dairy cows at the West Gippsland-based farm were being given the special additive in their twice daily feeds in a controlled setting that mimicked their grazing patterns.

The milkers were decked out in a special non-invasive harness and halter with tube over the animal’s nose that led to a canister to capture the animal’s belches.

Professor Jacobs said methane was responsible for producing 60 per cent of the smart farm’s greenhouse gases, and the seaweed could help it achieve emissions neutrality by 2026.

“Thus study has applicability to any ruminant, if it works in dairy cows, there’s no reason why it can’t work in beef cattle, sheep or goats,” Prof Jacobs said.

“Our role is to test this for the dairy industry, and then potentially other grazing industries.

“At our other smart farm in Hamilton, we have a paddock-based feeder that allows the animal to eat certain amounts whilst grazing.”

The red seaweed was being grown by FutureFeed under the auspice of the CSIRO, but Prof Jacobs said he hoped there could be more local commercial opportunities for the product.

“I’d love it, if down the track this becomes a viable option for livestock, we have a fantastic coastline in Gippsland, that maybe there would be an opportunity to have seaweed farms in Victoria.”

Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas visited the smart farm last month to check out the trials.

“Farmers are in the frontline when it comes to experiencing the real impacts of climate change, but they also know they are key emitters of greenhouse gases,” Ms Thomas said.

“Farmers really want to be a part of the story of change and want to be a part of the solution. It’s vital we work and-in-hand with the sector.

“The experiments being designed and the solutions being proposed have real applications and can maintain the productivity of every cow.”

Gippsland Farmer

The Gippsland Farmer is a monthly agricultural newspaper reporting on rural news and distributed FREE and direct to an area covering from Cann River through to South Gippsland. For more than 40 years Gippsland Farmer has reported on a range of issues and industries including dairy, beef, vegetables, sheep, goats, poultry, organic farming, and viticulture.