Waste products from farms could be used to produce a high-energy, low-cost and environmentally-friendly feed for livestock.
Scientists from the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University are working with colleagues from University College Cork in Ireland to investigate how slurry and wastewater from the dairy industry could be put to better use.
In a £1.375m project funded by the Interreg Ireland-Wales EU programme, the aim is to use farm waste to grow duckweed – a fast-growing plant biomass which can then be used as a protein source for feeding livestock.
If successful, the project will enhance the competitiveness of the beef and dairy industry in Wales and Ireland by generating an economically valuable feed as well as reducing farmers’ reliance on importing protein-rich feed such as soy.
There are potential environmental benefits too as using the waste products on the farm could lead to improved water quality in rivers and coastal areas off Wales and Ireland.
Dr Dylan Gwynn-Jones, who is leading the project at IBERS, said: “We are very excited by the potential of this research which aims to help the agricultural industry in both countries by developing technology to produce valuable green protein from waste. It will effectively allow farmers to ‘make money from muck’.
“Working in partnership with University College Cork, we will be developing native common duckweed (Lemna minor) as a novel crop for Irish and Welsh farms. Duckweeds are amongst the fastest growing plants, they are tolerant of ammonium (which is found in slurry), and they produce valuable essential amino acids that make it a promising feed-stock.”
Announcing the funding in February 2020, the Counsel General and Brexit Minister Jeremy Miles, who is responsible for EU funding in Wales, said: “This is a great way to help the transition to a sustainable, circular economy. Through cross-border collaboration, Wales and Ireland are taking a novel, innovative approach to preserving resources, creating local jobs – and treating waste water as a resource and an opportunity to create something good.
“This is another shining example of European Territorial Co-operation programme (ETC) funding supporting collaborative projects which seek to find answers to major issues. We are pressing the UK Government to make sure we can continue to invest funds like this in the regions of Wales which need it most.”
The project will apply the teams’ knowledge of hydroponics and waste management to develop plant growth systems supplied with nutrients sourced from animal waste.
Entitled Brainwaves (Bilateral Regional Accord between Ireland and Wales for Agricultural Valorisation and Environmental Sustainability), the project builds on previously successful collaborations between Aberystwyth and Cork universities.
Led by Dr Gwynn-Jones, the team at IBERS also includes Dr Paul Robson who has expertise on plant production and photobiology, Dr John Scullion an expert soil scientist and Dr Sarah Dalesman who is a freshwater biologist.
Representatives from farming communities and industry in both countries will also be consulted as part of the research project.