US pork production more sustainable today: study

by Staff
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DES MOINES – Although US pig farms of the 1950s may be remembered as idyllic, they were not as sustainable as those of today, claims a new Pork Checkoff-funded study. 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 one lb. of pork.

Environmental researcher and former university professor Garth Boyd, Ph.D., headed up a team of university and industry scientists who conducted this study to investigate how industry’s gains in production efficiency over the last 50 years have affected pork’s environmental impact. Feed, water, energy, land and crop-nutrient resources needed to produce pork – all things affecting pork’s footprint at the farm level – were included in the model.

“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 lbs. of pork produced, which is quite an accomplishment.”

A lot of the efficiency gains can be attributed to 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. The study’s findings revealed 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 time period.

“This study shows how farmers today can produce more pork with fewer resources than ever before,” said Everett Forkner, immediate past-president of the National Pork Board. “I’m not really surprised by this data either as I’ve seen a lot of change on my own farm over the years as I’ve evaluated and implemented new technologies.”

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

“As a pork producer, I’m proud of the accomplishments we’ve made as an industry,” Forkner said. “But today’s competitive market demands that we do even more to improve how we produce pork and I’m confident we can meet that challenge. We’ll do it with more innovations, more Checkoff-funded research and our continued dedication to the We CareSMinitiative’s set of ethical principles.”

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