The Pork Checkoff developed a Sustainable Pork Framework that illustrates how U.S. pig farmers define sustainability.
Sustainable farming is successful farming. Over the past 50 years, farmers have increasingly become soil experts because they’ve come to realize that good conservation practices are critical to long-term sustainability. Pig farmers also know they must produce food in a way that satisfies demand and respects the communities in which they live, and that to be successful, they must use resources in an economical, efficient way.
A clear, age-old example of sustainable animal agriculture is the cycle of using animal manure as a natural fertilizer for crops (crops that, in turn, become feed for the animals). Wise, forward-thinking agricultural practices are not just good for the planet and its people, but also good for business. Today, pig farmers have embraced an expanded concept of sustainability that encompasses more aspects of the pork production process. In short, while sustainability has become a more mainstream concept in recent years, farmers long have understood the vital importance of sustainable agriculture.
All areas of agriculture can have a positive and negative effect on the environment. The pork industry is committed to managing operations in the most environmentally responsible way possible. Conservation, recycling, land management, water quality, air quality and manure management are areas of priority for pig farmers for continuous improvement. Safeguarding the environment comes naturally to America’s pork producers because they understand their inherent responsibility to future generations.
In recent decades, we have learned to do more with less. Pig farmers have been challenged by the availability of land, the need for a qualified workforce and rising input costs. Farmers become more efficient by embracing technology and using better management practices.
Fifty years of progress
The Pork Checkoff-funded research that examined how efficiency on the farm improved from 1959 to 2009 has affected the environment. Anecdotally, pig farmers knew that their farms had achieved huge gains in productivity. Third-party researchers analyzed data from 1959 to 2009 to understand that productivity gains went hand in hand with significant reduction in environmental impacts. The researchers looked at pork’s footprint at the farm level: feed, water, energy, and land needed to produce pork.Researchers looked at pork’s footprint at the farm level: feed, water, energy and land needed to produce pork. While total greenhouse gas emissions are up in total, the pork industry actually emits much less per pound of pork produced because of improvements in efficiency.
- Feed efficiency improved 33% per pound of carcass weight
- Water use reduced 41% per pound of carcass weight
- Total land use reduced 59% per pound of carcass weight
- Carbon footprint reduced 35% per pound of carcass weight
- The number of hogs marketed increased 29% while at the same time the size of the breeding herd decreased by 39%
- The amount of pork produced per sow per year nearly doubled
Managing manure and emissions
Animal agriculture as a whole contributes a small part to total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S; pork production accounts for just 0.41 percent.
The manure and waste produced by pigs and the way in which it is managed is a top environmental concern. Manure produces methane and nitrous oxide, both greenhouse gases. A well-designed manure management system is key to maintaining an environmentally-friendly facility. A comprehensive nutrient management plan (CNMP) is a conservation plan specific to an individual farm. It outlines practices and management activities designed to ensure manure is used in an agronomically sound and safe way to improve soil quality, improve crop production and protect natural resources.
Several management practices can be put in place to help control emissions, like vegetative windbreaks plant buffers or fan filters that minimize the movement of dust and odor.
Farmers care about being good neighbors, which means making efforts where possible to minimize odors emitted from the farm. Positioning barns in relation to prevailing wind patterns and neighbors can help lessen the impact on others in the community. Planting windbreaks – trees and shrubs strategically placed around pig buildings and manure storage areas – helps keep odors from traveling offsite through the wind. Another strategy many farms employ is storage of manure in covered pits.
For centuries, farmers have practiced sustainable farming by capturing valuable nutrients from manure and recycling it as a natural fertilizer. Applying fertilizer benefits crops and soil by contributing necessary nutrients that crops need to grow. As some of those crops are in turn fed to the animals, the natural recycling process continues. Farmers may directly inject manure in the root zone to reduce odor when applying manure as crop fertilizer.