Fonterra’s land of milk and seaweed

ON-FARM trials of methane-reducing Asparagopsis seaweed have been expanded by Fonterra as it signs a deal to give its farmers first access to the supplement once its proven commercially viable.

Fonterra is working in partnership with Tasmanian-based company Sea Forest to look at the potential Asparagopsis seaweed has in reducing methane in a grass-fed farming system.

Fonterra General Manager of Sustainability APAC Jack Holden said the company’s grass-fed farming model made Fonterra one of the most carbon-efficient dairy producers in the world.

“However, we have an aspiration to be net zero by 2050 and are investing in R&D and partnerships to help find a solution to reducing methane emissions,” Mr Holden said.

CSIRO research has shown that Asparagopsis seaweed has the potential to reduce emissions by over 80 per cent in laboratory trials.

“As with all methane solutions we’re trialling, what we need to find out is whether we can use this supplement in a way that is safe for cows, safe for consumers and to ensure that there is no impact on milk taste or quality,” Mr Holden said.

“Over the past two years, 900 dairy cows on a farm in Australia have been fed small amounts of the seaweed supplement and the results have been promising at each stage.

“We are now expanding the trial across three additional farms, to test the supplement’s application at a commercial-scale.

“If the trial proves successful, we have agreed with Sea Forest that Fonterra farmers will have first access to the commercial Asparagopsis solution.”

Sea Forest Founder and CEO Sam Elsom said last year the company bought an additional 30ha farm as it dramatically increased its production of the seaweed supplement.

“Asparagopsis is a common seaweed native to the waters of Tasmania and New Zealand, and we’re the first in the world to cultivate it at a commercial scale through both marine and land-based aquaculture,” Mr Elsom said.

“We needed a food industry partner to help us take this to a commercial scale, and we partnered with Fonterra because of its commitment to sustainability and innovation.”

Sea Forest was recently named the 2022 winner of Telstra’s Best of Business Award, Embracing Innovation. Fonterra said it was carrying out other work as part of its commitment to the methane challenge.

This includes tapping into its large collection of dairy cultures to create new fermentations called Kowbucha™, which could inhibit the methanogens that create methane in cows.

Fonterra is also working with MPI and DairyNZ, expanding a promising trial with Nestlé to include plantain in a cow’s diet to reduce the amount of nitrogen produced, reducing carbon emissions and improving freshwater quality.