FREEPORT — A $3 million grant is helping Maine scientists and researchers see if cows that are fed seaweed at Wolfe’s Neck Center in Freeport emit less methane, a greenhouse gas.

The new grant from the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund will team scientists from the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay with researchers from Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment in Freeport, Colby College, the University of Vermont and the University of New Hampshire.

“We are thrilled to be part of this highly collaborative and actionable research,” said Dorn Cox, research director at Wolfe’s Neck. “It is so important to build bridges between our working landscape and waterfront, and this project can help share knowledge that will contribute to climate adaption and mitigation.”

Feeding cattle nutrient-rich Maine seaweed may improve the health of the cows, and improve the quality of the soil where they graze.

The funding will also help the team search for seaweed or seaweed blends that optimize these potential benefits.

“Our approach is so exciting because it encapsulates everything from the chemical processes that inhibit methane production, to economic impacts for seaweed producers and dairy farmers,” said Nichole Price, senior research scientist at Bigelow. “We urgently need to reduce the amount of methane that is currently being pumped into the atmosphere, and this approach empowers us to help address a global-scale problem through regional actions and local industries.”

Price said that in the U.S., about 30% of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture are from methane as a result of enteric fermentation, a natural digestive process in cows.

When cows eat seaweed, it changes the microbes in their guts and removes those responsible for generating the methane that cows expel, Price said. The change does not hurt the animals and may actually improve the efficiency of their digestive system and boost milk production, Price said.

After the two-year initiative launches next month, the team will screen seaweeds for compounds that make them good candidates for a feed additive. Testing will be done at the University of Vermont to determine if the most promising sea plants effectively reduce methane production. The team plans to conduct feeding trials at Wolfe’s Neck and the University of New Hampshire in the summers of 2020 and 2021.

Wolfe’s Neck Director Dave Herring said cows will access the special feed through a trailer that will accompany them as they graze over the summer and fall in the next two years.

The feeder units will have sensors that will take various measurements, including methane from cows in the study.

Herring said the project is the perfect example of the type of work being done at the Freeport center.

“It is definitely a unique project and one that we expect will attract visitor attention,” Herring said. “We plan to develop visitor and educational programming to share this initiative with the general public.”


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