Step aside, soybean meal, and get ready for competition. Protein-enriched copra meal (PECM) is here to challenge your position as a main ingredient in animal feed.
Developed over the last ten years by Dr. Laura J. Pham and her team at the UP Los Baños (UPLB) National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (BIOTECH), PECM was created by treating copra meal with microorganisms to enhance its protein content.
Copra meal or copra cake is a byproduct of coconut oil extraction and has around 20 percent protein content. Through UPLB BIOTECH’s patented process, the protein content was raised to as much as 44 percent—quite close to soy meal’s 46 percent.
So why is this significant?
The Philippines is one of the world’s top coconut producers. According to 2015 data released by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) in January of this year, coconut products were the country’s number one agricultural export commodity, with copra meal earnings of US$70.42 million.
Copra meal is already being used in animal feed mixes, but its composition—not enough protein and too much fiber—doesn’t make it an ideal main ingredient, which is what soybean meal is.
The problem with soybean meal? It’s not locally abundant, so local feed producers and farmers need to have this protein source imported. This need is so great that the same PSA data shows soybean meal as the country’s second top agricultural import commodity, costing US$888.4 million. “This product was sourced from the USA, accounting for 77.3 percent of the total value of imports,” the agency says. The Philippines was, in fact, identified as “the largest market for US soybean meal” by a 2016 Global Agricultural Information Network report of the US Department of Agriculture.
Pham says that due to the “high cost and insufficient supply of nutritious feed components, the animal industry is beset with problems of malnutrition, poor livestock, and the high price of animal products.” Price increase ultimately leads to a decrease in local consumption of animal products, she explains. And this, of course, means low income for Filipino farmers.
By providing a cheaper and locally-abundant alternative that’s just as healthy and nutritious, PECM can help ensure the sufficiency of an animal feed protein source and allow the reduction of prices of animal products due to lower production costs.
The good news doesn’t end there.
People might think PECM is only good for livestock like swine and poultry just because it was developed in UPLB, which is known for its leadership in agriculture education, training, and research.
Well, it’s not. It’s looking pretty good for aquaculture, too.
Retired UP Professor Valeriano L. Corre Jr. and Institute of Aquaculture Director Rex Ferdinand Traifalgar of the UP Visayas College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences have been leading the team on “Field trial of PECM as feed protein for tilapia, milkfish, and shrimp aquaculture.” One of the goals of the project is to come up with an optimized feeding guide in the use of PECM in aquatic animal feed.
Preliminary trials have posted positive results. Soybean meal could be replaced by as much as 50 percent with PECM, which the team says “could lower the cost of feed inputs in culturing shrimp, tilapia, and milkfish.” Overall, production was good for tilapia, milkfish, and shrimp in low density culture. The use of PECM didn’t affect the look, taste, and feel of the meat from these three products. Traifalgar notes, however, that trials in large-scale commercial-size ponds and tanks need to be completed to see if the results verify those of the preliminary tests.
With funding support from the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology, the development and production of PECM is projected to advance further with the upcoming completion of its pilot plant facility. Pham reveals “the optimization of the process conditions for the pilot scale production at one metric ton capacity will follow.”