Algae Crop Insurance
Managing Production Risk Through Crop Insurance
Facilitator: Devinn Lambert, Bioenergy Technologies Office, DOE kicked off this Session Spotlight on algae farming of the Algae Biomass Summit. Devinn works in the Advanced Algal Systems Program and is Co-Chair on the inter-agency working group on algae. This is one of the driving forces how Devinn and the Algae Biomass Organization have come together to collaborate and bring together this panel.
This is the final Industry Spotlight Session before the full Algae Biomass Conference begins next week. Participating in this panel are people from USDA Risk Management Agency as well as Farmers Business Network, which provides many resources to farmers, including crop insurance.
Much of this presentation was focused around the United States 2018 Farm Bill, which defined algae as an “agricultural commodity” making it an eligible crop for federal insurance programs.
The first part of the panel we heard from algae producers, and the second part we heard from algae insurers. Let’s dive into one of the algae producers talk by: Jakob Nalley, Director of Agronomy at Qualitas, Kurt Dieker of NBO3, and Tom Richard of Green Stream Farms.
Algae Farming: Establishing Valuation and Understanding Risk
This presentation gave an overview of farming algae at scale, specifically in open raceway systems, and how to mitigate risks – something everyone is interested in learning more about!
A bit of a company history on Qualitas Health, sometimes better known by their brand name iwi. Their aim is to create sustainable food solutions for everyone on our planet. To help achieve this goal, their focus is human nutrition with omega 3 supplements, and plans to bring an algae protein to market soon. They founded in 2012 and partnered with Green Stream Farms in 2017 which helped increase their biomass production. IWI, their national brand was launched in 2018.
The company Kurt represents, NBO3, or Natually Better Omega-3, aims to improve human and animal heath through a sustainable, low cost efficient delivery of healthful levels of essential omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. This is achieve through proprietary algae harvesting, concentrating, and drying technology, as well as a patented livestock feed production system.
Green Steam Farms was co-founded by Tom Richard in 2016. Their mission is to produce superior quality, high efficiency, low-cost microalgae in a open raceway pond based production system. Green Stream Farms own and operate the former Sapphire Energy facility in New Mexico.
The main crop produced is Nannochloropsis, a microscopic algae that produces a large portion of icosa pentaenoic acid, better known as EPA. This EPA is attached to certain lipids that help create a higher absorption rates compared to other omega-3 sources such as fish or krill oil. This strain of Nannochloropsis is very robust and can tolerate wide ranges in temperature, pH, and salinity. It also is a fast growing crop that generates high levels of EPA.
Algae Farming: Why it will work
In 2018 The Farm Bill newly established algae as an agricultural commodity for the purposes of USDA research, crop insurance and other programs. Due to algae’s fast growth, and its ability to be partially harvested while the remaining crop continues to grow, it is emerging as a very promising crop for our food system.
We can grow algae on non-arable land, which is great because that means it doesn’t compete with traditional agriculture crops. Because nannochlorpsis has such high essential amino acid (EAA) protein, it can actually create higher yields per acre compared to other crops such as pork, beef, soybeans, etc. Another bonus is that the water required to cultivate this high protein algae is quite low, since most of it can be recycled, unlike other crops.
Algae Farming: How it works
Looking at algae farming, it actually looks a lot like traditional farming.
The main steps:
- Cultivate algae
- Harvest and dry
- Ship algae biomass for processing
- Generate products
- Sell to customers
What are some agronomic practices for farming algae? Through their research, Qualitas and their partners have put together some operations to pay attention to.
The main points are:
- Water management: How does it move through the entire site, how to make up for evaporation, nutrient levels etc.
- Nutrient Utilization: COs, N, P, Fe utilization efficiency for those fertilizers, feeding schedule, etc.
- Pond Operation: Maintaining proper mixing and flow rates, pH, depth, etc.
- Harvest: Density management, yield management, where economic improvements can happen etc.
On top of these major things to pay attention to, people also need to pay attention to seasonality, and pests. Their pest management come from traditional agriculture, where they apply integrated pest management techniques. This lets them be proactive, rather than reactive, when it could be too late. This approach combines biotechnology with agriculture and aquaculture.
One important aspect of algae farming is having and maintaining a seed bank. Achieving scale has a long timeline, making this even more important in algae culture. Bringing a 100ml flask of algae to carboy scale could take up to 6 weeks. It would then take an additional 3 weeks to scale up to mini ponds. Once those have been scaled they would then inoculate larger raceways of 10,000-100,000 L in volume. This inoculated pond would then take another month to scale to a half acre pond, followed by transfer to a 1 acre pond in 1-2 weeks.
Adding this total time frame up, it can take a total of 5-6 months to move from flask to full raceway pond. Obviously, this is not feasible, so large seed banks and algae bioreactors are very important as backup, in case there’s a failure. Also, having two sites is important. If one site crashes, the other farm can send large volumes to the other farm to help them get back to scale faster.
What about Algae Valorization?
There are a number products that can be sold from algae biomass. These are mainly composed of oil extraction, food, feed and food ingredients, and soil amendment.
Contact IWI and their partners to learn more about the amazing work they’re doing in the field of algae!