By Mike King

America’s pig farmers are building on generations of continuous improvement with sustainability, according to a new Pork Checkoff-funded research study, A Retrospective Assessment of U.S. Pork Production: 1960 to 2015.

The study was based on a per pound/kilogram of live weight pig produced. Over the 55-year period, the study showed 75.9 percent less land, 25.1 percent less water, and 7.0 percent less energy use, with a 7.7 percent smaller carbon footprint.

“The study confirms producers’ ongoing commitment to doing what’s best for people, pigs and the planet using the We CareSM ethical principles,” said Dave Pyburn, senior vice president of science and technology for the Pork Checkoff.

“By obtaining reliable benchmark data for multiple sustainability metrics, producers can make real-world changes in how they raise their animals to produce an even more sustainable product in the future,” Pyburn said. “The Checkoff data offer pig farmers the best and most precise data to set their sustainability goals.”

The comprehensive life-cycle assessment project with the University of Arkansas used the best available methodology along with a field-to-farm gate approach. This meant including material and energy flows associated with the full supply chain, beginning with an extraction of raw materials through the production of live, market-weight pigs, including culled sows.

Unlike previous studies, the new research accounts for global warming potential and the use of dried distillers grains in many swine rations.  Look for more details in the next issue.

The report was generated using full-rigor, life-cycle assessment methods and the Pig Production Environmental Footprint Calculator developed jointly by the University of Arkansas, USDA, and the National Pork Board to apply specifically to pigs. Earlier models used methods applied to other animal species that were modified for pigs. For more information, go to: pork.org/sustainability

Key Numbers to Know

1960 to 2015

  • Land use reduced by 75.9%
  • Water use reduced by 25.1%
  • Carbon footprint reduced by 7.7%
  • Energy use reduced by 7.0%