VoLo Foundation Vista Award winner, Wilmer Cuervo, is working on the use of weeds to feed livestock, a proposal that would also reduce greenhouse gases in this industry.
By Carlos Roa
“Opportunity” is a word that frequently pops up in a conversation with Wilmer, one of the speakers who will be present at the Climate Correction™ Conference hosted by VoLo Foundation, on March 3rd in Orlando, Florida.
This young Master in Agricultural Sciences and research assistant at the University of Florida is the winner of the Foundation’s VISTA 2023 Award, which recognizes graduate students enrolled full-time at a U.S.-based university or college.
Wilmer earned this recognition for his project entitled “Evaluation of Anti-Methanogenic Potential of Extracts From Pigweed and Tropical Soda Apple in North Florida”.
An early vocation
“For as long as I can remember, feeding animals was appealing to me,” he relates. His grandmother has a small farm in Colombia, his native country, and he always wanted to get close to them. He became interested in livestock right out of high school, when he decided to take courses in agricultural training.
There he learned that ruminants have the ability of converting into protein fibrous materials such as forage or grass, which is of no use to humans. They produce meat and milk, and they also reproduce. “That is my goal, to take advantage of the great biological assets of these species.”
The pathway to a discovery
-When did you realize that your knowledge could help make the livestock industry more environmentally friendly?
-Around 2010 I became interested in greenhouse gas emissions from livestock, thanks to a group of international experts I met in Colombia.
However, he really started working on the issue at the University of Florida. There he learned several techniques to measure the impact of animals on the environment and, especially, to understand the influence that their feed has on this situation.
“The observation was born out of curiosity. We chose some very invasive weeds, which many animals do not eat; but which also have nutritional properties while presenting toxins that can harm the animal.”
Wilmer realized that the toxins could be eliminated and then understood that he was on to something very important. “A lot of people see weeds as something to get rid of, but they can have a richness beyond that.”
In Florida he noticed the plant known as Tropical Soda Apple. “There was already research on this plant. We tried to simulate in vitro what happens in a cow’s stomach. We found a solution to two problems: to make the weeds useful and to reduce emissions from cows in the state.”
Yes, it is possible
As for the feasibility of using this proposal on a massive scale and thus taking advantage of its benefits, the VISTA Award winner believes it is achievable. “Other crop byproducts have already extracted specific nutrients by drying the plant; also with oils and alcohols. I am currently evaluating an additive that is extracted from the peel of a fruit.”
He adds that whether or not it can be mass-produced depends on the results obtained. Three types of extraction will be tested. “We have to make a panel and test under various circumstances if it really lowers methane production, to decide if it is worth going to the next level.”
-Can a more environmentally friendly livestock industry be achieved?
-Yes, it is possible. We focus on increasing production efficiency and reducing emissions. That is achieved with additives, working with more digestible forages.
Wilmer believes that in the future there will be green bonds or economic incentives for producers, encouraging them to reduce their carbon footprint.
In conclusion, he says: “We can reduce the impact of methane emissions in the long term and make farmers aware that many of the weed species that they fight with agrochemicals can be an alternative. Probably in the future, maintaining these weeds will be an opportunity”.
Wilmer Cuervo will present his work “Evaluation of Anti-Methanogenic Potential of Extracts From Pigweed and Tropical Soda Apple in North Florida” at the 2023 edition of Climate Correction™ to be held at The Celeste Hotel in Orlando on Friday, March 3. Information and ticket sales can be found at this link.