Seaweed 2.0 – a novel approach to innovative Agri-solutions aimed at sustainable agriculture systems

The use of seaweeds in agriculture dates back thousands of years. During the ancient roman times, plant seedlings were mulched with seaweed to promote their growth. In the coastal area of Europe, farmers incorporated seaweeds in the soil or used it as a compost. Starting from 1948, 18 countries had developed their seaweed resources for fertilizers; and by 1950, a liquid product was developed, which could be considered the founding stone of the seaweed extract industry with respect to agricultural applications. Our very own company founder, Louis Deveau of Acadian Seaplants Ltd., started to commercialize seaweed extracts in 1992. Yet in the last 50 years the agricultural industry has mainly embodied a chemical revolution, with the emergence of mineral fertilizers as a critical driver for the dramatic improvement of yield in most crops.

Today modern agriculture is facing its greatest challenge, as nutritional needs of a world population of 9.7 billion by 2050 increase, concurrently with reduction of arable lands and soil degradation. According to a United Nations report, in Europe 970 million tons of fertile soils have been getting lost each year and approximately 24 billon tons worldwide due to erosion and inadequate agricultural practices1. Furthermore, the marked drought issues and the impact of more frequent natural disasters has created major losses in agriculture with the US experiencing 80 billion USD in terms of crop and livestock production loss between 2003 and 20132.

To counteract the effects, innovative approaches should be considered in developing solutions aimed at sustainable intensive agriculture systems. Along with smart irrigation systems, precision agriculture, and genetically modified seed, seaweed extracts stand as a novel input with evidence of their benefits on crop production provided in many scientific journals and studies.

Currently seaweed extracts are widely used as plant biostimulants, which aim to promote plant growth, enhance abiotic stress tolerance, improve nutrient uptake as well as including antioxidant properties. Seaweed extracts account for more than 33% of the total biostimulant market worldwide and is predicted to reach 894 million Euro in 20223. Seaweed extracts can be applied on soil and/or on plants as a foliar spray. They act positively on soil properties and remediation as well as improving soil microflora.

The time when biostimulants such as seaweed extracts had skepticism regarding their agricultural benefits has significantly faded, as solid scientific evidence of their positive effects is continuously provided. “Plants are complex living organisms,” says Richard Brereton, Acadian Plant Health’s Global Field Development Lead. “A plant responds depending on the environment and products like Acadian Plant Health seaweed extracts are meant to work with the natural processes of the plant. If, for example, there is a stress event, the seaweed extract will help that plant survive and continue on to harvest. However, if there’s no stress event, it may be more difficult to see differences in results or yield at the end of the day, the response may be more subtle. When you look at a synthetic chemical that is applied to kill a pathogen, there’s a much higher likelihood that a grower will see a response. Biostimulants are not as black and white as a chemical and this has been a roadblock for the industry in the past. Putting the benefits of these two products together though could be a game changer for agriculture moving forward.”

Regenerative agriculture and seaweed extract use is a transformative solution to the challenges of farming today.

As we look to the future of agriculture and solving the problems of today, many are starting to turn to a new way of farming, known as regenerative agriculture. Regenerative ag was named as the No. 1 food trend in 2020, and business interest in the field continues to go up, with both consumers and companies realizing they’ve got to find a way to tackle global emissions in the coming decade. In fact, more and more companies are jumping on the bandwagon and announcing initiatives to encourage broader adoption of regenerative agriculture. In February 2022, Kellogg said it was investing $2 million in a five-year program paying growers to use regenerative agriculture practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the production of rice in the Lower Mississippi River Basin. Nestle announced plans for a Nestle Institute of Agricultural Sciences in Switzerland to identify new agricultural technologies to help the agricultural sector transition toward a regenerative food system. General Mills is targeting 1 million acres in regenerative agricultural production by 2030, and Cargill is paying producers to adopt regenerative ag practices.

The definition of regenerative ag is generally described as farming and grazing practices that restore degraded soil, improve biodiversity and increase carbon capture to create long-lasting environmental benefits, such as positively impacting climate change. It’s also believed regenerative agriculture can make crops more resistant to extreme climate events, such as droughts and heavy rainfalls.

Empowering life instead of repressing life – Regeneration vs Degeneration.

Think of regenerative ag as a step up from organic farming. It’s considered to be not only better for people’s health but the health of the planet. More specifically, regenerative agriculture seeks to move away from synthetic fertilizers, monoculture crops and industrial production methods to techniques that minimize the chemical use and enhance the health of both water and soil. The end result is that regenerative agriculture yields benefits for growers, consumers, the environment and the world.

But regenerative ag won’t be put into widespread use over night. For farmers to incorporate the principles of regenerative farming systems, they must know that doing so will ensure they are still profitable. In all likelihood, sustainable food production and security with minimal impact on the environment will require a combination of regenerative and conventional cropping systems for the majority of farmers to adopt these practices in the near term, with expansion to more regenerative practices as time goes on.

This is where an opportunity exists for seaweed as a solution to driving regenerative agriculture practices. “At Acadian Plant Health™ we’ve been able understand how our seaweed extracts can play a key role in bridging the gap between regenerative and conventional crop systems,” says James Maude, SVP at Acadian Plant Health. “As a complimentary input, biostimulants such as our seaweed extracts, can combine with traditional crop protection or fertilizer to improve crop quality and yields, but also improve soil health. For instance, a key area of regenerative ag is soil health and restoring degraded soil. Acadian’s Ascophyllum nodosum seaweed extract is well documented and scientifically proven to improve soil micro-biodiversity, with increases in growth of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi – a integral part of regenerative agricultural improvements4.”

And while conventional crop inputs focus on biotic stressors such as bacteria and disease, seaweed extracts can positively impact abiotic stressors like high and low temperatures, soil composition, drought, and salinity. “With improved soil health, farmers can begin to reduce reliance on synthetic inputs. Which, as we know, future agricultural systems will require sustainable management practices, including the reduction of synthetic chemicals and fertilizers,” says Maude. “Improving the efficiency of crops without yield loss, and in a regenerative, sustainable manner – that’s where seaweed extracts can have a major impact.”

According to the United Nations Global Impact initiative seaweed is the greatest untapped resource we have on this planet. It has the potential to address a lot of the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals and connects the land and the ocean in a circular and regenerative way. “With science and innovation, we intend to lead the way in this area, by partnering with fertilizer and agri-chemical companies on new, novel products that can be used in tandem with regenerative agricultural practices.”

“It’s not a new realization that soil is a living ecosystem, or that food—the plants and animals humans eat—inhabits a broader environmental and social context. But there is new willingness among those in the food and agriculture industry, to consider farming as something other than commodities to be extracted from the landscape,” says Maude.

This is where biostimulants, like Acadian Plant Health’s seaweed extracts can play a pivotal role in the regenerative agriculture movement.

  1. United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification Global Land Outlook; United nations: Bonn, Germany, 2017.
  2. The Impact of Natural Hazards and Disasters on Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition; Food and Agriculture Organisation: Rome, Italy, 2015.
  1. Eef, B.; Marlies, D.; van Swam, K.; Veen, A.; Burger, L. Identification of the Seaweed Biostimulant Market (Phase 1); The North Sea Farm Foundation: AD Den Haag, The Netherlands, 2018.
  1. Hines, S., van der Zwan, T., Shiell, K. et al.Alkaline extract of the seaweed Ascophyllum nodosum stimulates arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and their endo mycorrhization of plant roots. Sci Rep 11, 13491 (2021)

Interested to learn more about our seaweed extracts and regenerative agriculture? Read more about our seaweed here or contact us with any questions.