SEAWEED technology could boost crop yields.

The Olmix Group has invested tens of millions of euros into algae research and innovation since 2012, and recently hosted a visit to its Brittany-based laboratories and manufacturing site, following the acquisition of UK-based Micromix – a firm specialising in foliar nutrition and biostimulants.

Chris Gamble, Micromix sales manager, said: “A lot of seaweed is being simply processed and sold as a plant booster, but Olmix has a scientific understanding of what the molecules are actually doing. Now we know the plant genomes we can see exactly what the different active ingredients are doing.”

Olmix harvests seaweed from the Breton coast once it has reached the end of its lifecycle – so it is a sustainable product. Given the high tidal reach of the area the seaweed is particularly strong, which is reflected in its biochemical make-up and stress tolerance.

When broken down into its components - carbohydrates, proteins, sulphated polysaccharides and nutrients - the seaweed can be used to boost crop and soil health. Didier Blin, plant care manager at Olmix, said: “Each has a different action on the plant, from growth stimulation to boosting the plant’s natural defence mechanisms against stress.”

Maria Matard-Mann, research projects manager, said combined with micronutrients, inorganic acids, or clay, the products can be applied at different growth stages for maximum effect. “We are using seaweed as a complement to crop and soil health, not the only part of nutrition," she said. "That’s what makes the difference – having both a nutritional and biological activity.”

She said there are more than 9,800 species of seaweed, with a greater genetic diversity than fungi and animals combined. Many elements – such as sulphated polysaccharides – are not present in land plants, which is what makes them so useful.

“As crops don’t recognise marine sulphated polysaccharides they respond with immune aggression, which improves their resistance to stress or disease.” Algal hormones stimulate root growth and nutrient absorption, while biological activators boost humification in the soil.

Jean-Marie Bocher, international director, said: “Farmers have to produce more and better with less, to feed the planet in a sustainable way. We believe algae can be the answer.”