We understand the value of microalgae for both the land and the animal.
BetterFedFoodsTM understands the value of microalgae for both the land and the animal. Microalgae has been used for millennia as a soil amendment, mostly in eastern cultures, although there have been limited U.S. studies.
Our microalgal strains are some of the most intensely researched microalgae with a multitude of uses from biofuel to animal feed and food supplements. Our microalgae are high in protein and can produce up to 20% more lipid content than other terrestrial crops. We use different strains and different growth methods to achieve distinct results.
Role of Regenerative Ag
The science and economics of improved soil organic matter and plant health are based on the principles of regenerative agriculture: 1) consideration of circumstantial factors such as resources, climate, geography, etc; 2) use of cover crops to promote soil organic matter, reduce erosion, and help ensure best conditions for soil microbial life; 3) minimizing soil disturbance such as tillage, grazing, fire, and applications of other chemicals; 4) increasing plant diversity creates a diverse underground community; 5) maintaining living plant roots; and, 6) integrating livestock improves soil and plant health with adaptive grazing.
Microalgae as a Bio-Stimulant
Microalgae can produce compounds that promote the growth of plants. They can be amended to soils as a bio-fertilizer and growth promotor to improve the growth of plants (Uysal et al, 2015).5 Green microalgae Chlorella species are among the most commonly used microalgae for this purpose in agriculture, and extensive soil testing under a multitude of conditions has shown a positive effect on the soil microbiome and plant fertility to help reduce the use of NPK-based fertilizers (Raposo, et al, 2011).6
Just as in the microbial makeup of animal digestive systems where the biome has a direct effect on health, plants depend on a similar process, living in symbiosis with microbes. The soil around the roots, the rhizosphere, is roughly equivalent to the biome and microorganisms living there are critical to plant growth and health.
Soil bacteria fix nitrogen by converting atmospheric nitrogen into compounds absorbed by the rhizosphere for photosynthesis and the production of organic compounds including amino acids and proteins. The key is that plants don’t fix nitrogen. It is a function of soil bacteria, and there are up to 10 billion bacteria per gram of soil in the rhizosphere.
Conversely, synthetic chemical fertilizers containing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) bypass the natural microbial process. They are applied in a variety of forms that can be directly absorbed by plant roots to enhance growth. This works but over time there are numerous problems with NPK, including toxicity, inefficiency, its carbon footprint, rising expense, and supply chain issues.
Several factors could be related to the positive effect on plant growth using microalgae; they include: 1) high concentration of oxygen related to algal photosynthesis (Mazur et al. 2001)7; 2) capacity of algae in regulating plant growth; 3) improving the water-holding capacity of soil (Moller and Smith 1998)8; 4) providing nutrients to plants; and 5) producing antifungal and antibacterial compounds (Cannell 1993; Borowitzka 1995)9.
- Phytohormones produced by microalgae and plants are very similar (Romanenko 2016)10. Typically, only a small quantity of these molecules is needed to boost the growth of plants. The most popular phytohormones produced by microalgae include auxins, abscisic acid, cytokinins, ethylene and gibberellins (Lu and Xu, 2015; Han et al. 2018)11.
- Phytonutrients produced by microalgae are environmentally friendly and cost-effective alternatives to chemical fertilizers and other products used in agriculture (Michalak et al. 2017)12. Bio-stimulants produced by different microalgal species are known to improve the growth, yields, nutrient uptake, and stress relief of many crop plants via regulating different pathways (Ronga et al. 2019)13. Microalgal cultures contain rich organic and inorganic nutrients, and symbiont bacteria which can improve soil chemical and biological properties. Bio-fertilizers produced by microalgae are able to improve the plant growth and restore soil fertility.
- Associated bacteria provide essential micronutrients to microalgae to stimulate the growth of plants and improve soil quality. It is likely that microalgae and bacteria in the culture consortium act together to promote the growth of plants and improve the soil quality.
From a standpoint of sequestration the conversion of the weight of pure carbon in Soil Organic Matter (SOM) is performed by converting it to the weight of CO2, so each 1% increase in SOM for every 6” of soil is the same as storing 18.3 tons/acre CO2 equivalent. Additional mass corresponds directly to an increase in photosynthesis. A 1% increase in SOM results in over 25,000 gallons of increased water holding capacity per acre.
Following baseline testing, microalgae will be applied to farm crops and pastures for data-supported and validated improvements to SOM through certified soil testing protocols. Crops using microalgae alone or in combination with traditional fertilizers show significant increases in biomass and root growth, protein, and yield. Crops amended with microalgae become part of the Total Mix Ratio (TMR) or forage of resident herds.
All related data will be entered into the USDA COMET-Farm database.
Funding from the USDA Climate-Smart Commodities grant would incentivize producers to participate in the BetterFedFoodsTM Climate Smart Premiums program.
Microalgae as a Feed Nutrient
BetterFedFoodsTM is aligned with provider NBO3 Technologies of Manhattan, Kansas. NBO3 operates approximately 100 acres of open raceway ponds in Columbus, NM, the largest facility in the United States. The algae strain is Nannochloropsis oculata, a marine microalgae documented to contain substantial amounts of essential Omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Both are long-chain Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids that significantly curb inflammation and promote other bodily functions in animals.
The microalgae-based feed nutrient is branded as Great O Plus (GO+). NBO3 has sold approximately 25,000 tons of GO+ to producers throughout the United States.
Traditional rumen diets are high in Omega-6 and Omega-9 fats that lead to inflammation and health stress. GO+ reverses these effects and significantly reduces inflammation and stress. GO+ also is high in beta-glucans that bind toxins and stimulate the immune system, significantly reducing the need for antibiotics.
Microalgae provide substantial benefits to animal diets in the form of Omega-3 and other essential fatty acids (Bromm, et al, 2021)14. N. oculata adds an additional source of polyunsaturated fats - especially EPA – to herds in a direct form. It complements straight flaxseed, which has been known for years to provide Omega-3 fatty acids, but can sometimes cause digestive disturbances.
Conversion of microalgae based feed nutrients
In most cases the rumen changes the structure of the incoming fatty acid through a process called bio-hydrogenation - turning these positive fatty acids into saturated fats.
NBO3’s patent-pending manufacturing process encapsulates the feed so it can remain a source of polyunsaturated fats with exceptional bypass of the rumen. That allows beef herds to convert LCFAs available at more than double the level of other feeds, making it a potent fat supplement. It transfers those essential fatty acids to calves during weaning to increase immune health. Better conversion rates reduce methane emissions from the herd.
Just like the importance of managing amino acids, balancing essential fatty acids plays a critical role in the health, growth efficiency, and quality of a beef animal (Phelps, et al, 2015)15. Benefits are: reducing inflammation, improving reproductive health, improving the activity of the natural autoimmune system, improving the activity of the ruminant capillary to allow for better nutrient absorption. This promotes marbling in the meat cuts, hoof health, the ability to handle feedlot stress, and improved daily weight gain. Data validates the benefits in every phase of the animal’s life. Fatty acid studies document meat quality with improved marbling, palatability, and mouth feel (Ebarb, et al, 2016)16.
Further, following dramatic improvement in pulmonary arterial pressure (PAP) scores for beef cattle at high altitudes on GO+ lick tubs, Kansas State University is conducting research into the use of GO+ to reduce the frequency High Mountain Disease (HMD). This research is funded jointly ($400,000) by the U.S. Cattleman’s Association and NBO3.