As the world celebrates another Earth Day on April 22, research shows that America's pork producers have made huge improvements in environmental management over the last 50 years. The research, titled “A 50-Year Comparison of the Carbon Footprint and Resource Use of the U.S. Swine Herd: 1959 - 2009,” found that modern pork production methods have led to a 35% decrease in the carbon footprint, a 41% reduction in water usage and a 78% drop in land needed to produce a pound of pork compared with a 1959 baseline.
“As a pork producer, I'm proud of the accomplishments we've made as an industry,” says Conley Nelson, National Pork Board president and producer from Algona, IA. “But today's competitive market demands that we do even more to improve how we produce pork. That's why pork producers are working together to fund new environmental research that will help us build on the progress we've made over the past 50 years.”
“The study underscores just how much improvement farmers have made over the past half century,” says Garth Boyd. The environmental researcher and former university professor led a team of university and industry scientists in conducting the checkoff-funded study. “The pork industry has been very successful in significantly reducing its environmental impact and its use of natural resources by nearly 50% across the board per pound of pork produced, which is quite an accomplishment.”
Several on-farm practices have helped improve U.S. pork's overall environmental sustainability. Boyd says these were primarily related to the continuous improvements made over the years in how farmers care for their animals through better nutrition, health and overall management, as well as through improvements in crop production. One example in the report shows that feed efficiency of pigs has improved 33%, which means that animals consume less feed for every pound of meat produced. This is a major factor that reduces both the amount of land required for growing grain and the amount of manure produced by pigs.
While the recent data on the sustainability metrics offer a positive reflection on past performance, Nelson says today's pork producers are not standing still in terms of environmental progress. “To us, Earth Day is much more than a single day or week of heightened environmental awareness – it's an engrained part of how we care for our animals, the environment and our communities as we provide healthy pork products for our consumers.”
The National Pork Board has defined four pillars of environmental sustainability – carbon footprint, water footprint, air footprint and land footprint. According to Nelson, the Pork Checkoff is making inroads into all of these areas with farmer-directed research and the creation of on-farm tools. Most notably, producers can now use the Live Swine Carbon Footprint Calculator to calculate the impact and improvements on their own farms (www.pork.org).
As each of the four pillars of environmental sustainability are completed, they will be integrated with the others to provide a tool that pork producers can use to further their ongoing efforts to protect the natural environment in all of their farming activities.