Researchers are Juicing Alfalfa as a Next-Generation Aquafeed

USDA

Cows and horses aren’t the only fans of alfalfa. Yellow perch like it, too.

That’s what Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and their collaborators concluded when they fed the fish pellets made with a protein concentrate from the legume crop’s protein-rich leaves.

They’re experimenting with alfalfa as part of a broader effort to find suitable alternatives to using fishmeal, a protein-rich ingredient in aquaculture feeds given to “farm-raised” finfish and shellfish. Aquaculture is the fastest-growing sector of the food industry worldwide, generating $1.37 billion in U.S. sales alone. However, there’s concern that increasing consumer demand for aquaculture products will outpace what the ocean’s wild-caught stock of sardine, anchovy, menhaden and other small forage fish can supply as a fishmeal resource for aquafeeds.

According to Deborah Samac, who leads the ARS Plant Science Research Unit in St. Paul, Minnesota, formulating aquafeeds with plant-based proteins could help lessen the need for fishmeal in aquafeeds, reducing aquaculture’s impact on aquatic natural resources. Using nutritious, affordable alternatives to fishmeal could also ease the burden on pelagic fish populations, which are important members of the marine ecosystem and its inhabitants, particularly larger predatory species.

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