An Irish-based consortium of entrepreneurs and scientists have joined forces to cultivate and process Duckweed, a fast-growing, protein-rich pond plant.
Emerald, which Stephen O’Sullivan is leading, is accelerating through the steps of growth optimisation, and processing the plant to animal feed and food ingredients.
Duckweed is cultivated in shallow ponds; it thrives on nutrients from natural sources but also farm waste rich in Nitrogen and Phosphorus.
Researchers say this makes the plant especially interesting from an ecological perspective.
It can close the nutrient loop and help protect soils and waterways. They claim that at the same time, it can provide an “exceptional” crop with similar protein content to soybean meal.
Researchers added that current shortages of grains and protein feeds highlight the urgent need for efficient crops and methods that enrich ecosystems.
Emerald believes that Duckweed can contribute to carbon sequestration, especially by re-wetting peaty soils that currently emit carbon.
The consortium hopes that the humble Duckweed will be positioned as a strategic national crop.
When managed efficiently, they claim that the crop offers greater productivity and environmental benefits than peas and beans.
In a statement, Stephen O’Sullivan said:
“We have been working on duckweed solutions for about 18 months. That is when I returned from Asia to help the team of international experts focus on commercialising the technology from Ireland.”
“Ireland has plenty of land suitable for re-wetting and provides the perfect environment to grow the plant.”
“This solution can enhance the local ecology and helps farmers create a net positive impact environmentally, economically and for society as a whole.”
“It offers the farming industry the opportunity to use marginal or unproductive lands and turn a ‘pig’s ear into a silk purse’.”
“We are at a point now where we can start to move fast. We can get our products into market testing with influencers in key sectors,” he added.
Displace almost all protein feeds
Furthermore, he claims that when we meet the challenges of scale, Duckweed complements other vital crops.
On these grounds, he believes “as a nation, we could displace almost all of our imported protein feeds”.
“That is just not possible with peas and beans alone. This would provide invaluable security for our livestock and organic aquaculture sectors,” he concluded.