The Narungga Nation’s traditional lands in South Australia are set to become a world-leading aquaculture farm for a seaweed that can reduce cattle’s methane output by up to 99 per cent.

The seaweed in question is a red algae called Asparagopsis taxiformis and it’s cool water relative Asparagopsis armata.

Research conducted by the CSIRO in collaboration with James Cook University and Meat and Livestock Australia found that small amounts of the algae added to cattle feed reduced the methane in cow burps by up to 99 per cent.

A huge reduction in emissions of a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide, the algae has economic benefits for farmers too.

Reducing the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted by cattle actually makes them more productive. The energy that would otherwise be taken up in the methane can be used by the cattle to produce meat or milk.

After identifying the potential uses for Asparagopsis, CSIRO licensed the use of the algae as a feed supplement and founded a company called FutureFeed to manage the commercial aspects of the discovery.

CH4 Global, an initiative working to cut methane emissions, has now partnered with the Narungga Nation Aboriginal Corporation to build what they believe is the first commercial scale supply of the seaweed in the world.

The collaboration is a good fit: CH4 Global’s South Australian subsidiary has the licence and technical know-how, and the algae is native to the Narungga Nation’s traditional waters in the Yorke Peninsula, which have the perfect climate to grow both cold and warm water varieties of the seaweed.

Dr Steven Clarke, Dr Sasi Nayar, and Dr Adam Main of CH4 SA with a batch of Asparagopsis. Photo supplied.

Narungga Nation Aboriginal Corporation CEO Klynton Wanganeen said the project has just received 40 hectares’ worth of leases for the aquaculture project near Yorke Peninsula’s Point Pearce. He said the project is still in the testing stage.

“We’re actually in the process of planning and putting in the infrastructure for two one-hectare leases, so that we can start growing with a view to working out the optimal depth … for the warm water species,” he said.

The seaweed varieties are grown in EcoParks consisting of 20 hectares of water and two hectares of land. Young algae are grown in a hatchery on the land space, then moved into the water to mature before being harvested and taken to a processing facility.

Wanganeen said the initial 40-hectare site will create around 20-25 jobs but is confident the project will quickly scale up to a couple of 500-hectare sites.

CH4 Global has already secured a buyer for the output of the first EcoPark. It’s enough to service at least 10,000 cows and creates a guaranteed $7.8 million dollar profit right out of the gate.

The technology has huge potential to generate profit; there are 2.7 million head of cattle in Australian feedlots and dairy farms. CH4 Global Director Dr Steve Meller said even though the product hasn’t begun creating any supply yet, enquiries are flooding in.

“Through our website we get several dozen inquiries a week, from potential investors [and] potential farmers, both in Australia and New Zealand, and potential partners,” he said.

Dr Meller expects the project to scale quickly after the first EcoPark begins production, with huge tracts of coastline around Australia suitable for the farming of the seaweed. He said CH4 Global wants to prioritise collaboration with Traditional Owners.

“The plan and intent that we have all collectively talked about, is how do we actually enhance the lives, wellbeing, social, environmental and economic impacts of coastal Aboriginal Nations,” he said.

Wanganeen said it was encouraging to see his people involved in the project.

“Even though there’s a steep learning curve it’s a really good lesson in seeing something grow from the beginning to where we think it potentially could go,” he said.

By Sarah Smit