Published 2017-10-27

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AquaAgri gathers researchers on land and at sea

Those involved in the Mistra programme AquaAgri, which is studying new system solutions in agriculture and aquaculture in five projects, gathered for a joint conference in May. Several promising results were presented.

‘AquaAgri has developed into a very interesting programme that has done things right in many ways. It’s generated good ideas that we can go further with, perhaps in a completely new programme about food and farming,’ says Thomas Nilsson, AquaAgri’s programme director at Mistra.

AquaAgri comprises five different projects. They differ in thematic terms, but have the common feature of trying to develop new system solutions for more sustainable and efficient agriculture and aquaculture.’

Aquaculture, in particular, is an expanding sector with great potential. One subject being investigated is the scope for large-scale cultivation of macroalgae. Algaculture has the advantages, compared with cultivation on land, that algae need no fertilisers, pesticides or artificial irrigation. What is more, macroalgae grow faster than terrestrial plants.

Henrik Pavia is the project manager of the project entitled ‘Large-scale Sustainable Cultivation of Macroalgae in Sweden’.

  • ‘Meeting people from the other projects has been surprisingly positive,’ he says. ‘From the start, I thought we biologists wouldn’t have that much in common with agricultural researchers, but completely new projects have arisen out of

At the beginning of January 2017, a project began in which farmed brown algae are to be used as feed for chickens and, by extension, also livestock. This is a way of reducing antibiotic inputs. The project, which originated from a previous AquaAgri conference, has now received funding from the Swedish Research Council Formas and is headed from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU).

During the most recent conference, another project idea emerged.

‘We decided to start a project in which red algae will be added to fodder for cows. There are bioactive substances in red algae that we think will reduce the cows’ production of methane gas,’ Pavia says.

Another marine-based project in AquaAgri focuses on marine aquaculture, and experiments in farming lobsters are under way in this project.

Of the more land-based projects in AquaAgri, one is about perennial crops. Its aims include plant improvement to produce a multiannual variety of barley that withstands climate change better.

Another project is about converting coarse fodder, grass, clover and by-products from food and bioenergy production into cattle feed. Today, half the feed given to milk cows consists of cereals.

The Wheat Gap, another land-based project, is investigating factors that reduce harvests and how better to exploit the yield potential of crops and simultaneously reduce environmental impact.

With field experiments and using soil and crop models, the researchers are studying how harvests are affected by full access to water and nutrients in various types of soils under varied weather conditions.

It has been observed that varying degrees of water, nitrogen and plant protection agents seem to boost harvests in relation to normal cultivation conditions. Based on their findings, the researchers develop models.

‘The field experiments are on a large scale and quite expensive. Last winter was unusually cold, and when the warm weather comes we review the various states they have reached,’ says Bo Stenberg, one of the SLU researchers.

During the year, work will continue on the five projects. Next year, the programme will be concluded, with a closing conference and publications. Thomas Nilsson, Mistra’s Programmes Director, thinks placing marine and agricultural researchers in the same programme has proved to be a successful solution.

‘Mistra’s initiative has brought them together. And it turns out that they think it’s tremendously good to meet and make comparisons between aquaculture and land cultivation. This is the sort of thing we wanted, but we weren’t entirely sure we’d succeed. I think this may be a foundation if we’re going to issue a broader call for proposals later,’ Nilsson says.