A study commissioned by the National Pork Board finds that while pig farms of the 1950s may be remembered as idyllic, they were not as sustainable as today’s systems.

From the 1959 baseline, today’s hog operations offer  a 35% decrease in carbon footprint, a 41% reduction in water usage and a 78% reduction in land required to produce a pound of pork.

The study led by Garth Boyd, an environmental researcher and former university professor, included a team of university and industry scientists who looked at how the industry’s gains in production efficiency over the last 50 years have affected pork’s environmental impact.

The model for the study covered everything that affects pork’s footprint at the farm level – 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 says. “The pork industry has been very successful in significantly reducing its environmental impact and use of natural resources by nearly 50% across the board per 1,000 pounds of pork produced, which is quite an accomplishment.”

Efficiency gains can be attributed mostly to the continuous improvement farmers have made over the last half a century in crop production and in how they care for their animals through better nutrition, health and overall management.

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

Totaling all of the efficiency gains, this example provides a clear sign of the progress toward greater sustainability: Today’s farms can produce 1,000 pounds of pork with only five pigs from breeding to market vs. eight pigs in 1959.

“As a pork producer, I’m proud of the accomplishments we’ve made as an industry,” Forkner says. “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 Care initiative’s set of ethical principles.”