A Minnesota research team is suggesting that algae could be the next ingredient used in dairy rations. Photo: University of Minnesota Dairy Extension

J dropcapennifer Coyne, writes in the University of Minnesota’s Dairy Star that assistant professor of renewable energy Robert Gardner and his research team think that algae could be the next ingredient used in dairy rations alongside corn and soybeans.

Dr. Gardner presented his preliminary research findings during the Midwest Farm Energy Conference at the University of Minnesota’s West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) June 13 in Morris, MN. “There are a lot of different options of products that algae can make — cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, bioplastics, biodiesels, and protein and carbohydrates for animal feed,” he said.

At WCROC, Gardner’s work begins at the dairy lagoon, where wastewater is stored and laden with ample nitrogen and phosphorus. “I realize manure waste water is a valuable commodity to farmers, however, eutrophication is still happening,” Gardner said. “Maybe there is a way we can be a little smarter and more strategic.”

Currently, Gardner and his research team are collecting water from the lagoon and cultivating the algae for dairy feed, removing the nitrogen and phosphorus and treating the water at the same time. “We can then take the algae and feed it back to dairy calves to see if there is a pre- or probiotic effect to it … whether it stimulates the gut microorganisms in the cows and helps them grow better,” Gardner said.

The algae being studied are a cyanobacteria type, which can fix nitrogen. This process creates a biofertilizer that can replace synthetic nitrogen products.

Last year, the team created a prototype algae reactor, which cultivates the organisms in a flat-panel setup using recycled plastic. In time, Gardner hopes to add an aquaponic system to further recycle the water. “There are a lot of different options,” Gardner said. “If we can work with the right strain [of algae], think how we could change dairy farming.”

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