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UVM researchers expand cow methane abatement study

Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 8:08 AM EDT
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Research continues at the University of Vermont to see if feeding cows seaweed can reduce methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas.

Ashley Driemel is in the middle of a two-year study specifically testing seaweed. Simulators using rumen fluid give UVM researchers a simulated cow digestive system.

“We’ve mostly been testing feeding methods and inclusion rates within the diet,” said Driemel.

This research into seaweed isn’t necessarily brand new, but cows aren’t ocean animals, so there is lots of studying to go. A multi-institutional research team just got a grant to keep going.

“We’re looking at everything, and I’m super excited about that for this project,” said Sabrina Greenwood, a UVM associate professor.

In collaboration with groups from Syracuse University, the University of New Hampshire and the Bigelow Laboratory for Oceanic Sciences, Greenwood was awarded just under $3 million from the USDA to go deeper, specifically on the effects on organic dairy production.

“Whether that’s environmental, whether that’s health, whether that’s economic or all of the above which is always the hope,” said Greenwood.

Each institution will be researching different impacts. UVM is focused on what they call the “benchtop work,” controlled machines in a lab testing for pH levels, health and bacteria.

“For this set of programs, we are very focused on dairy, so we are very focused on animal health. If we feed the seaweed, we’re doing a lot of benchtop work. So, how is that going to affect the rumen, which is a very important part of the cow’s stomach. Is it going to keep that healthy, is it going to affect the pH in there, is it going to help all the bacteria in there, what are they going to do? So, we are doing all that first to make sure it’s safe before we even give it to a cow,” said Greenwood.

And while Driemel is working on her own research, she says seaweed is on the cutting edge of ruminant research and hopes to contribute to the future of farms.

“I do look forward to seeing where this could go and the great impact it could have on agriculture as an industry in general,” said Driemel.

Driemel also says she looks forward to what this can do for the aquaculture and feed industry as the work continues, as well as methane reduction. There is preliminary research showing methane reduction with certain types of seaweed.

The study is set to go for four years.

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