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Horses Harvest Seaweed in Atlantic Canada

Dec 29, 2015 04:23 PM EST

If you've never seen draft horses walking through ocean surf, you either (1) have not seen a Budweiser commercial or (2) have missed out on a part of agriculture on some areas of Canada's Prince Edward Island (PEI) province.

That's because massive Percheron horses still sometimes pull rakes to harvest seaweed there. Between the spring and fall lobstering seasons, fishermen there traditionally have brought in seaweed as a cash crop to supplement yearly income, according to an article in Modern Farmer.

They and the horses have for years harvested Irish moss, which is a short red seaweed typically used to make carrageenan, which serves as an industrial food additive. In summer, it is tossed ashore by storms. After farmers sell it to processors, a gel-like material is taken from it-- to be used in products that include soy milk, beer, pudding and toothpaste.

That said, an invasive weed, fucellaria, has been invading and smothering Irish moss beds. But one or more seaweed companies in the province hope to shift the focus of the harvest and sale so that all kinds of seaweeds can be sold for agricultural nutrients -- for fields and livestock. A man named Joe Dorgan who heads North Atlantic Organics is behind the effort to change. The company also just built a new million-dollar facility.

Why, after all this time, do the harvesters use horse power? "The horses don't mind the water, and they're good workers, and that's just been the way it was," Dorgan said in the article. "Our ancestors done it that way and it's still done that way today."

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-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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