Jamberoo beef and pork farmer Alan Smith has designed a cheaply-built, eco-conscious indoor system that grows protein-rich grass from barley seeds in seven days.
The Jerrara Creek Farm owner hopes this system, built for $1000 with gear available at hardware stores, can drought-proof farms across Australia, and other arid nations.
“Farmers are a proud bunch of people, I don’t want to give them money, I want to equip them with a system to drought-proof their farms,” Mr Smith said.
“Yes there's a cost of setting it up, but instead of using the grain, put it in the system, and you’ll get five times as much feed. At minimum I'm going to cut their feed bill in half, possibly by 80 per cent.”
The grass-like product is versatile, allowing farmers to grow fodder for cattle, sheep, horses and pigs.
“This can be adapted for all types of livestock,” Mr Smith said.
“I'll use it for my pigs, it covers them all. If you want to add more fibre, mix it (barley) with a bale of hay.”
Mr Smith has spent two weeks building and testing his prototype, and is pleased with progress so far.
He based his design on the work of UK inventors who created fodder sheds, where they grow barley to a height of six to eight inches in seven days.
“The concept is not new, the approach is,” Mr Smith said.
“We want to grow grass in a landscape where fresh water is scarce.
“What is new about it is that we’re reusing water, and using an energy-efficient heating system.
“The ones that exist cost a fortune because they use air-conditioning units to regulate the room temperature. I’m not interested in air temperature, I’m interested in root temperature.
“A seed is like a battery, all it needs is to be kept moist at a certain temperature.
“Why spend all this money heating a room when you only need to warm the root?”
Instead of air conditioning, Mr Smith has used an aquarium heater to warm the water.
Yes there's a cost of setting it up, but instead of using the grain, put it in the system, and you’ll get five times as much feed.
The water is pumped around the system in black pipes underneath the feed trays, and household insulation underneath the pipes to keeps the heat contained to the root area.
Mr Smith partnered with Vollers from Albion Park Rail (the business provided free trays and drafted Alan’s design) and Waterwell from Albion Park (the business provided pumps and pipes to test heating systems).
Next, Mr Smith will work on a 28-tray, four-level system designed to produce 840kg of feed per week.
Mr Smith is lobbying state government for a grant to help him build the larger system.
In return, he has offered to show farmers how to build it themselves.
Kiama MP Gareth Ward visited the Jamberoo farmer earlier in the week to inspect the prototype and advise Mr Smith on possible grant funding.
"I’ve encouraged Alan to apply for a grant through the NSW Governments Farm Innovation Fund," Mr Ward said.
"Well done Alan."