Seaweed is easy to grow, sustainable and nutritious, but it’ll never be kale

[USA] Let’s say you want to farm. And let’s say there is a crop that requires you to plant and harvest, but do very little in between. It needs no fertilizing, no weeding, no watering, and it has very few enemies in the form of pests or disease. It gets all it needs from the environment around it and, under optimal conditions, can grow almost six inches a day. It’s healthful for people, and it actually leaves the environment better than it finds it.

That’s the case in favor of seaweed, and it’s a case that Charlie Yarish, a professor in the department of marine sciences at the University of Connecticut at Stamford, has been making for nigh on half a century. They call him “Captain Seaweed.” I visited his lab, and I’m a believer.

Paul Dobbins of Ocean Approved harvests sugar kelp off the coast of Maine. Seaweed can grow through the winter, so seaweed farming is a complement to most shellfish farming, which takes place in warmer months. (Sarah Dobbins/Ocean Approved)
Paul Dobbins of Ocean Approved harvests sugar kelp off the coast of Maine. Seaweed can grow through the winter, so seaweed farming is a complement to most shellfish farming, which takes place in warmer months. (Sarah Dobbins/Ocean Approved)

Yarish has spent decades doing the work that brings an interesting idea — let’s farm seaweed! — to the point where growers can start viable farms. There are some 3,500 kinds of seaweed, and figuring out which kind to grow, and where, and how, is a big job. The first rule? “Always grow a species native to the water you’re growing in,” says Yarish. Because some seaweeds are wildly invasive, that’s an important point.

One of the farmers who has taken advantage of Yarish’s research is Paul Dobbins. He’s a co-owner of Ocean Approved, a company that farms sugar kelp off the coast of Maine and sells it frozen, rather than dried. In a kind of busman’s holiday (I farm oysters), I went out with him to take a look at the kelp. It was early spring, and most of his crop had already been harvested, but he still had a line or two in the water. We pulled up to the buoy that marked a line, and he reached into the water.

What he pulled into the boat was a remarkable abundance of plant. Sugar kelp gives magic beanstalks a run for their money: It can grow from seedling to 15 feet over one winter. In the process, it cleans the water by removing some of the nutrients that can lead to algae blooms. Along with shellfish, kelp is one of the few farmed foods with a positive environmental impact.

And it doesn’t consume much in the way of resources. There’s the gas for the boat. There’s the labor in planting, harvesting and processing. And that’s about it.

There are a couple of ancillary non-environmental benefits. Most shellfish farming takes place from spring through early winter, so a crop that can grow from early winter through spring is an excellent complement; it can use both the space and the labor in the off-season.

 

Read also: Experts are working to make seaweed the next kale

View original article at: Seaweed is easy to grow, sustainable and nutritious, but it’ll never be kale

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