Seaweed technology could be the 'next big thing' for boosting crop yields at a time of declining chemical efficacy, it is being claimed.

With Scotland on the cusp of a controversial major investment in the harvesting of kelp, comes news of scientific breakthroughs revealing the multiple benefits of algae derived from many kinds of seaweed.

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

“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,” pointed out Chris Gamble, sales manager for Micromix. “Now we know the plant genomes, we can see exactly what the different active ingredients are doing.”

It harvests seaweed from the Breton Coast once it has reached the end of its lifecycle, so it is claimed to be a sustainable product and not subject to the same concerns that kelp harvesting is receiving in the UK. 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, this can then be used to boost crop and soil health, explained Didier Blin, the plant care manager at Olmix. “Each has a different action on the plant, from growth stimulation to boosting the plant’s natural defence mechanisms against stress.”

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

With more than 9800 species of seaweed having 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, she added.

“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."