Swine producers moving toward a sustainable future

Swine producers moving toward a sustainable future

Posted Oct. 1, 2012


New research shows Iowa swine producers and others across the country are doing their part to work toward a sustainable future.


A study released this year shows that though pig farms of the 1950s may be remembered as idyllic, they were not as sustainable as those of today. This becomes clear as the metrics most associated with sustainability are revealed from their 1959 baseline: A 35 percent decrease in carbon footprint, a 41 percent reduction in water usage and a 78 percent drop in land needed to produce a pound of pork.


Garth Boyd, Ph.D., an environmental researcher and former university professor, led a team of university and industry scientists who conducted this Pork Checkoff-funded study. Everything affecting pork’s footprint at the farm level was included in the model, including feed, water, energy, land and crop-nutrient resources needed to produce pork.


“The study underscores just how much improvement farmers have made over the past half century,” Boyd said. “The pork industry has been very successful in significantly reducing its environmental impact and use of natural resources by nearly 50 percent across the board per 1,000 pounds of pork produced, which is quite an accomplishment.”


Sustainability, however, means more to pork producers than just being a good environmental steward.


“Many of the gains in efficiency can be attributed to the continuous improvements farmers have made over the years in both crop production and in the care they give their animals through better nutrition, health and overall management,” said National Pork Board President Conley Nelson, a farmer and pork executive from Algona. This appears to be reflected in the study’s findings that showed a 29 percent increase in hogs marketed compared to 50 years ago with a breeding herd that is 39 percent smaller. Feed efficiency, a major factor that affects the land required for growing feedstuffs, has improved by 33 percent during this period.


According to the study, when all of the findings on efficiency gains are totaled, the progress toward greater sustainability is clear with this example: Today’s farms can produce 1,000 pounds of pork with only five pigs from breeding to market compared with eight pigs in 1959.


“The new research validates what we as farmers have always believed: The production improvements we’ve made in our industry have improved the sustainability of today’s modern pork farms,” Nelson said. “What’s important is the care we are giving our animals and the care we take with the environment.”


As an example of continuous improvement, Nelson reported that participation in the Pork Quality Assurance® Plus program has reached record levels. As of July 1, more than 16,755 sites — representing 75.38 percent of the U.S. pig inventory — have been independently assessed, and more than 55,500 individual producers are participating in PQA Plus. PQA Plus is a continuous improvement program created to reflect the increased interest consumers have in how their food is being raised. It emphasizes 10 good production practices that demonstrate farmer’s commitment to socially responsible pork production as well as food safety.