Environmentally friendlier meat might be possible with the help of duckweed

Any comments, suggestions or just looking for a chat about this subject? Don't hesitate and leave a comment on our improved comment section down below the article!

Lemna, a genus of free-floating aquatic plants from the duckweed family - Image Credit: 3268zauber via Wikimedia Commons, processed by Universal-Sci

Current meat production has a heavy impact on the environment. Researchers have found a way to reduce that impact by smart utilization of duckweed

Research from Ghent University shows that duckweed can filter manure and convert it to animal feed, improving the ecological footprint of meat production.

Current meat production has a heavy impact on the environment. After all, protein has to be imported for animal feed, and animals produce a quantity of manure that can not simply be removed.

Duckweed, a free-floating aquatic plant that lives in ponds, streams and canals, extracts nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from the water. These substances convert the plant into proteins, which in turn can be used in animal feed. This way, waste is converted back into animal feed.

Filtering a surplus of Manure

Researcher Reindert Devlamynck (Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University) explains that many waste streams from agriculture contain nitrogen and phosphorus, for example the residual waters of fish farms or manure from pigs and other farm animals.

In Flanders, too much manure is still being produced to fertilize the existing fields. Because agricultural land is limited, Devlamynck and his team were looking for a way to administer that large amount of manure in a different way.

Duckweed is a very efficient filter. It can remove 1,500 kg of nitrogen per hectare. By way of comparison: according to the Belgian law for example, a farmer may only administer 170 kg of nitrogen per hectare on a field. By filtering manure surplus with duckweed, 9 times less area is needed for the same amount of manure.

... and convert it back to animal feed

To grow, duckweed extracts nitrogen and phosphorus from the water. These nutrients are converted inside the plant into proteins that are necessary in feed. Duckweed contains a high protein content with a favorable amino acid composition. That translates into a protein production that can be higher than that of soy grown in Brazil.

Image Credit: Andrew Yardley via Unsplash, processed by Universal-Sci

Environmental impact of animal feed

This research project, of which Prof. Erik Meers (Ghent University) is promoter, is one of the solutions that Europe is developing to produce its own protein. A large part of the protein in animal feed is currently being imported, with a significant environmental impact as a result.

According to Reindert Devlamynck: A standard ration for a pig consists of energy crops such as wheat, maize and barley, and protein sources such as soy, rapeseed and sunflower scrap. Especially the protein sources have a huge impact on the environment: almost 80% of them are imported by Europe, mainly from South and North America. More and more people are eating meat, so more and more protein has to be produced.

At the moment, the demand for protein is being filled by importing more and more soy beans. This ensures that rain forests are cut down to make room for soybean fields, which significantly reduces biodiversity. The transport of soy causes an increase in CO2 emissions, which contributes to climate change.

Duckweed soup?

We can also live more environmentally friendly by collecting less protein from animal products. According to scientists duckweed is a possible alternative here as well. Who knows, maybe we will soon get soups, burgers or salads from duckweed on our plates.

From theory to practice

The translation of the research into practice takes place in close cooperation between The University of Ghent, the INAGRO agricultural practice center and involved pig farmers. A small pilot installation was built at IVACO, the farm of the Tolpe family. We will undoubtedly learn more about this sustainable transition in the coming years.

The research on duckweed was carried out within the framework of the ‘Blue Chain.’

The Blue Chain is a project within the Flanders-Netherlands Interreg V program, a cross-border cooperation program with financial support from the European Regional Development Fund.

Source: University of Ghent Press Release

If you enjoy our selection of content please consider following Universal-Sci on social media: