Beyond ruminants: discussing opportunities for alternative pasture uses in New Zealand
The New Zealand government has set ambitious goals for primary sector growth and of zero net carbon emissions by 2050. This presents an opportunity and obligation to develop new ideas for grassland production systems to increase export value and generate new job opportunities, while reducing environmental impacts. The aim of this paper is to draw on recent research in Europe to investigate some of the alternative and complementary uses for pasture as a feedstock for a green biorefinery. A biorefinery is a facility, or a series of processes, that convert biomass into a spectrum of value-added products. For example, protein can be extracted mechanically from green biomass once harvested. The residual fibre fraction could be used as a low-nitrogen feed for ruminants to reduce urinary nitrogen, while the liquid protein fraction could be processed to make it suitable for mono-gastric or human consumption. Enzymes can promote protein extraction and controlled conversion of insoluble plant fibres and oligosaccharides to foster gut-health promoting prebiotic food ingredients. Anaerobic digestion of residues can then be used to create energy and soil-improving products. Research and demonstration of these approaches in practice, along with the results of feasibility studies, will be required to see which of these opportunities is a good fit for New Zealand pasture systems.
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