Irish-produced animal feed made with locally-found duckweed can help the Irish agriculture industry meet its climate targets, a meeting of leading experts from around the world heard on Friday.

Some 45 leading scholars and practitioners from around Ireland and across the globe met at University College Cork (UCC) to explore advances in duckweed research and how these can contribute to an innovative and sustainable agri-feed industry for Ireland.

This protein-rich duckweed can be a more environmentally-friendly replacement for imported feed, according to findings.

UCC duckweed expert Professor Marcel Jansen said: “We are increasingly aware of the problems that come with our dependence on imported soya as a feed protein source for our farms.

"It is extremely exciting to think that we can produce some of that same high-value protein right here in Ireland.”

Imports criticised

Imports of protein-rich feed have been criticised for their climate and environmental impacts, as well as their dependency on worldwide trade, which may result in price volatility, as well as exposure to disruptive international events, such as the Ukraine war, he said.

Growing protein-rich crops on home soil can reduce demand for imported feed and duckweed is a protein crop that is suitable as a soya replacement in animal feeds, he argued.

Duckweed can grow on nutrient-rich wastewater from the agricultural industry, cleaning the wastewater in the process. Duckweed is an ideal plant to be part of a circular bioeconomy process, whereby wastewater becomes a resource for protein production.

Duckweed research in Ireland has been supported by the Environmental Protection Agency and the European Regional Development Fund.

New project

A new project led by UCC and funded by the Department of Agriculture specifically develops duckweed growth on farm waste streams, optimises protein extraction technology and assesses the economic and environmental viability of the use of these plants in feed production for Irish agriculture.

The project involved Teagasc, Technological University Dublin and Devenish Nutrition.