Research looks at developing system for converting grass into food

Could the grass beneath your feet transform the way you eat?

Dr Richard Green
Dr Richard Green

That’s the revolutionary aim of a new research project, Pasture to Plate, led by Harper Adams University here in Shropshire, which launched last month.

Backed by UK Research and Innovation and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the project will be worth £2.5 million over the next three years – and its scope is hugely exciting, as it seeks to develop and refine processes which could have a transformative effect on United Kingdom and global food production.

The work we will be doing, alongside the University of Bath, will develop a system for converting grass into food.

We process the grass, separate out a wide range of initial nutrients, and then culture yeast on the remaining material – converting it into oils and further extractable edible food fractions, with any residual material converted into a nutrient rich fertilizer.

The process is very efficient – with one and a half to two kilos of dried grass, we can produce a kilo of edible food fractions. This has the potential to massively increase UK food production and food resilience – and the potential benefits don’t stop there.

Among the products that can potentially be made through this process are replacements for imported ingredients such as soy and palm oil – dramatically reducing food miles, transport costs, fuel emissions, and the commercial incentive to destroy rainforests.

And in the UK, our grass is more resilient to flooding and other extreme weather conditions than most other crops.

That means not only would we be further unlocking its potential as a crop for food – but also as one with an improved resilience to climate change.

We’d also see arable land prone to flooding profitably returned to meadow grass production – and this could include wildflower-rich varieties being trialled at Harper Adams during the trials – which will boost our own biodiversity.

I am truly excited about the potential impact of this project.

Dr Richard Green is Head of Engineering Research at the Harper Adams-based National Centre for Precision Farming, and Principal Investigator for the Pasture to Plate project

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