British ‘wonder seaweed extract’ could help feed the world
A seawood extract named SM6 can improve crop yields and quality and help plants to withstand stress conditions such as late frost and drought
It is a question that is testing the mettle of scientists, and has the rest of the world feeling concerned; how can we grow enough food to feed the nine billion or more people who will make up the global population by 2050?
Much of the focus is on developing new cutting edge technology to increase crop and livestock yields and maximise increasingly scarce resources to effectively double food production by 2050. Satellite technology is giving food growers greater efficiency over drilling, fertiliser and spray applications, while in the livestock industry drones are being touted as the next big thing to monitor flocks over huge distances, saving fuel, land compaction and time.
Right now though, it is something much simpler – an old British Isles seaweed extract with crop boosting properties, enigmatically named SM6 – that is grabbing the interest of the food science and farming sectors.
Produced by a small organics business, UK-based Chase Organics, enquiries for the extract are pouring in from all corners of the world, including from Canadian marijuana farms and golf courses.
Farmers in countries ranging from Spain to South Korea have placed record numbers of orders for SM6, a highly concentrated liquid bio stimulant whose efficacy is due to its 30% seaweed solids and low pH composition, while Japan famously bans other products like this from abroad; SM6 is the only one they will allow into the country.
So what is the secret of this highly sought after seaweed recipe that can improve crop yields and quality and help plants to withstand stress conditions such as late frost and drought?
“One is simply the unique properties of seaweed that grows in our cooler native waters,” says Chase Organics managing director Michael Hedges. “This makes it particularly rich in the active ingredients that are beneficial to crops. The other is our own formulation and processing method that preserves these as a highly concentrated end product.”
It all sounds very futuristic, but in fact, this super crop fertilizer isn’t new at all, and was first developed in the 1950s. The company itself dates back even farther and was originally founded in 1912 by engineer-turned-entrepreneur Major L.H. Chase.
In 1905 he built the Mersey Transporter Bridge over the river Mersey near Liverpool, among other projects, but he was also a keen city gardener who was concerned about his crops being damaged by environmental pollution, a by-product of the burgeoning industrial age. His solution was to invent the Chase Cloche, a device made of wire and glass that kept plants clean and went on to enjoy commercial success.
Fifty years later Chase found himself heading for the Channel Islands to help with the re-inhabitation process following the German occupation during the Second World War. It was here that he discovered the local technique of using seaweed to boost crop production, an idea that he took back to his business and developed into a commercial product.
Hedges, who has been with the company for the last 30 years, said: “Initially it was being produced on only a small scale and sales growth was very much on a word of mouth basis.
“In the last five or six years, however, with the rise in popularity of organic produce, we’ve seen unprecedented demand for SM6. In 2012, everything we made was sold before it was produced, due to a surge in demand from Korea and Taiwan. Once people realise they can use this product to get a better yield and a better income, they want it.”
SM6’s customer base stretches from across the UK to as far away as China, New Zealand and Chile. Some of the biggest markets are in Spain and other parts of southern Europe where citrus fruit crops are predominant, which is why Hedges now has his sights set on the US and the potentially lucrative Florida orange grove market.
He says: “We believe this market could represent as much as 30% of our business. Historically the company has already established some trade links with North America, and we are currently exploring the opportunities with the support of UK Trade & Investment.”
Anticipating yet another dramatic upward shift in demand, Chase Organics has also completed a major investment to upgrade and expand its SM6 production facilities.
Well ahead of 2050.