With the global population projected to burgeon to 11 billion by the end of the century, it is clear that we have to find new ways to feed the world. Yet the question remains: How?
Therein lies the challenge for Alltech's joint research alliance with Kentucky State University, known as the Alltech-KSU Sustainable Farming Alliance. Dr. Karl Dawson, chief scientific officer at Alltech, considers the alliance "a unique approach to meet our research needs" and said it is "quickly becoming a fundamental part of our innovation strategy."
The combined brain trust of Alltech scientists and KSU faculty members is entering a third year of promising studies targeting solutions to the global food crisis through sustainable farming techniques.
"Sustainable," of course, has become a universal buzzword used in everything from urban planning to renewable energy to architecture, and even to lifestyle and work practices. As applied to agriculture, sustainability means the use of farming techniques that protect the environment and meet the needs of the current population without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. At the same time, farmers have to be cognizant of the effects of these processes on the farm itself, which must remain financially and operationally sustainable as well.
How to achieve all that, and what it actually comes down to in practice, depends upon the type of sustainability one is talking about. The Alltech-KSU model takes a multifaceted approach through farming dirt and farming water with studies in agriculture and aquaculture.
The Alltech-KSU alliance's aquaculture studies have focused on reducing, and even eliminating, the need for fish oil in feeding aquatic life. The agriculture studies mainly target soil quality and crop yield.
Among Alltech's 23 global research alliances with universities and institutes around the world, its program with KSU has already made significant strides. With data still being collected from the trials, both agriculture and aquaculture researchers believe they are already seeing treatment effects from the Alltech products, said Drs. Kirk Pomper and James Tidwell, KSU professors who supervised the studies.
Aquaculture researchers at KSU have conducted major experiments on three types of fish and crustaceans. A report on the most recent study (on Pacific white shrimp), completed in late August 2015, has been accepted for presentation in February at the prestigious World Aquaculture Society 2016 conference.
Vaun Cummins, a senior aquaculture technician at Alltech, said that because there are so many species being grown in aquaculture, "It makes a lot of sense to look at Alltech solutions in as many aquaculture species as possible. KSU has the expertise, facilities and production methods with which to grow a wide variety of species."
"The research alliance with KSU allows us to move closer to sustainable aquaculture practices by looking at different species and finding out what nutrient sources work most efficiently, lessen reliance on marine resources and reduce negative environmental impacts," he added.
The combined expertise of the two partners enables them to together achieve more than either could alone. In terms of the trials, said Tidwell, "Alltech gives KSU access to different…products, as well as (providing) analytical capabilities we don’t have." The university, in turn, gives Alltech the ability to "run replicated feeding trials that they cannot run in their facilities."
In the separate Alltech-KSU agriculture/crop science research, studies were conducted on winter wheat and hemp to examine how Alltech products may affect soil quality and crop yield. Research initiatives at KSU have focused on the role Alltech Crop Science technologies can play in increasing nutrient uptake and overall marketable yields. Specifically with hemp production, farmers are looking at ways to increase fiber content and maximize seed production. The challenge is to achieve these results with a long-term sustainable approach, and this is the basis for the research being conducted at KSU.
Such advancements in sustainability could also be a boon to farm profitability, particularly in regions suffering droughts. Some California farmers have even begun to refer to "the hemp hope," one predicting last year in the Los Angeles Times that hemp "is going to revive farming families in the climate-change era" because it requires half the water that wheat does and can generate up to four times the income.
As KSU's Pomper noted, the benefits of growing hemp could be widespread. "Industrial hemp is a fiber, oil and seed crop with great potential as a new crop for Kentucky's farmers. We are excited by this combined research effort by KSU and Alltech to help farmers find new crops, such as hemp, and new economic opportunities. We see a lot of potential for hemp fiber and seed markets here in Kentucky."
The bottom line, said Dawson, is that "The work being done with Kentucky State University will make great contributions in the areas of sustainable agriculture and aquaculture around the world."