Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

Updated: October 8, 2021

Maine lab gets $10M to find ways to decrease, um, gas output from cows

cows in pens Courtesy / William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute Cows at the Miner Institute in New York eat a mixed feed, balanced to meet their dietary needs. A new $10 million grant from the USDA, led by Nichole Price with Bigelow Laboratory and Colby College, will fund research into developing new algae-based supplements that could improve milk production and sustainability.

An East Boothbay-based team is getting in on the research to see if algae-based feed supplements can really reduce cows’ burping and thereby lower their carbon hoofprints.

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and Colby College received a $10 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture Systems Program to expand research into the supplements as a way to increase environmental sustainability while improving milk production. 

The research team, led by Nichole Price, will test algal feed additives and assess the product’s impact on animals, farms, communities and the planet, according to a news release.

“This is a team that has already been working well together for several years on finding pointed solutions for sustainability within the cattle industry,” Price said in the release. 

“Now, we can expand our scope and work together on a whole-systems approach to sustainably enhance U.S. milk production.”

Price is a senior research scientist at Bigelow and holds a research faculty appointment at Colby. This is the largest government-funded research grant in the college’s history. The team includes researchers from Syracuse University, University of New Hampshire, University of Vermont, Clarkson University and William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute.

Reducing methane

Milk production in the United States has quadrupled in the past century, and the demand for dairy continues to grow globally. 

Recent research has shown that certain algae-based feed additives reduce cows’ methane-emitting burps, and can be produced with a lower carbon footprint than land crops. They also allow for increased potential to recycle and recapture nutrients in the feed production process. Further studies show that microscopic algae can offer similar benefits, and could provide a scalable solution for farms of all sizes.

To turn these findings into an economic opportunity, a team of economists and other social scientists will look at how to integrate the product into the supply chain, make it profitable for each stakeholder, and foster its adoption through community outreach and decision-making tools.

“To find a real solution, the process has to be assessed economically and environmentally at every step along the way,” said Bigelow Senior Research Scientist Steve Archer, a co-lead on the project. “We're striving to develop products that are a benefit to industry and the planet, it's essential that those two criteria go hand in hand."

Feed trials will investigate the impact of algal ingredients on an array of cows and farms. By testing supplements with feeds available in different geographic areas, researchers can develop a nutritious additive that is widely applicable and more impactful. In conjunction, the researchers will also evaluate the supplement’s impact on the cows’ wellbeing.

“The supplement may work perfectly, but it can only be a real solution if supply chain actors will buy it and farmers adopt it,” said University of Vermont Professor of Community Development and Applied Economics David Conner, a collaborator on the project. “In order to succeed, we have to make sure the entire process is economically resilient and can survive market shocks, support dairy production, and promote a healthy agricultural economy.”

The team will also be looking at how the new supplement impacts greenhouse gas emissions at each stage of production and distribution, ensuring a whole-systems understanding of its impact on the industry's carbon footprint. The life cycle assessments will enable the researchers to seek the best balance of greenhouse gas emissions with milk yield and quality.

Sign up for Enews

Related Content


Order a PDF