Ag Industry, Farming, Land Management, Research, Weeds

Paddy melon weed could become economic crop

One of the most invasive Australian weeds is being touted as a potential economic crop, with benefits for agriculture and other industries

The prickly paddy melon weed costs the agricultural industry approximately $100 million a year in cattle deaths, lost grain yields and control measures – but now it could be turned into an economic crop, according to the University of South Australia (UniSA).

University researchers have found that this weed has the potential to be a source of urease enzymes, used to create bio cement and prevent soil erosion.

Fifty native plants and weeds were screened in a study which looked at finding a cheaper and more environmentally friendly source for bulk production of urease enzymes to strengthen soil.

UniSA says of the weeds tested, paddy melon ticked all the boxes and was almost as effective as soybean enzymes, which are more expensive and used primarily for food.

After crushing the seeds and extracting enzymes in a liquid form, they were freeze-dried to create a powdered high-concentration cementation agent, UniSA says.

“Using this technique, we cut down the cementation time from one week to six hours,” UniSA geotechnical engineer Mizanur Rahman says.

Individual plants can yield 50 or more paddy melons, each containing up to 200 viable seeds.

Taking into consideration the time taken to harvest, extract the seeds and turn them into a powder, the UniSA researchers estimate a 75 per cent saving compared to lab-grade enzyme production costs.

According to UniSA, plant-based urease enzymes are becoming a popular alternative to cement, lime or artificial soil binders because they are natural and not damaging to the environment.

“Compared to the production of commercial enzymes, paddy melon enzymes are cheaper, more sustainable, and more efficient than other enzymes used to cement and stabilise soils,” Rahman says.

“Not only have we found a natural alternative to other commercial enzymes, but we could solve a very expensive problem for the agricultural industry by harvesting these weeds, reducing the availability of seeds for spreading, preserving biodiversity and growing paddy melon as a commercial crop.”

UniSA says these findings could also benefit the construction, forestry and mining industries.

“I believe we have found a win-win solution that helps not only farmers, but also offers a natural cementation option for several industries,” Rahman says.

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