Algae farming shows blooming promise
Growing algae could one day be as common as planting grain crops and running livestock for West Australian farmers.
This is according to Perenjori farmer Brian Baxter, who 41⁄2 years ago decided to explore cultivating the organism as a crop.
Currently running 6000 Merino sheep and leasing grain paddocks on his property, Mr Baxter was inspired by a desire to bring new people into the local community and boost business, and the fact that Perenjori has an abundance of water, food, aeration, heat, and sunshine to grow algae.
“If you have one hectare or 10,000sqm, you get 400kg per day of algae from that,” he said.
“It has a carbon-nitrogen ratio of seven to one, so we’d have to turn it into pellets and then it would be an add-in for another type of fertiliser, and we think it could fit well with some phosphorus fertilisers.”
James Cook University donated some of the genus Tolypotluix, isolated from algae, which he has grown into a small algae crop, after first placing it in two 1000-litre pods of torpid water in January.
The algae are self-separating in the water, with the final product contained and stored for sale 15 months after preservation by air-drying, oven-drying, even freeze-drying.
The Perenjori Algae Farming Project, which was set-up on Mr Baxter’s farm in 2014, is based on the use of Tolypotluix overseas as an ingredient for the production of biofertilisers, with the possibility to combine metal remediation from waters and soil amendment.
Mr Baxter said the algae had health benefits as an addition to lamb fodder. “The natural algae supplement can more than double the omega-3 levels of lamb meat,” he said.
“Feeding lambs as little as 20g of algae supplement per day for eight weeks boosted omega-3 levels in meat 240 per cent compared with lambs consuming a ryegrass-clover hay diet, according to Victorian Department of Primary Industries research.
“Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats in the human diet, playing an important role in growth and brain development.”
Mr Baxter said he hopes to receive funding to construct indoor algae ponds with climate control to regulate optimum conditions.
“Even though we have successfully grown some algae it is recognised that the method has a way to go and we are still working on the best way to go forward,” he said.
Kirsten Heimann at James Cook University.
Perenjori farmer Brian Baxter takes a sample of cyanobacteria growing in a 1000-litre pod, which appear as small tufts floating in torpid water created by the genus Tolypotluix.