While demand for animal proteins is rapidly growing, by 2050 this growth is expected to double in volume presenting ecological and environmental challenges for the animal production industry. This leaves many wondering, will animal agriculture be part of the greenest generation or the grimmest generation?

That's the challenge posed to over 1,700 animal agriculture professionals who attended Alltech's International Animal Health and Nutrition Symposium, where the company's director of worldwide research, Dr. Karl Dawson, said technology exists to keep animal agriculture productive and make it more sustainable.

"The livestock industry's role in solving these problems is as important as anything we will do in agriculture," he said. Dawson outlined nine technologies that can keep animal agriculture productive and sustainable.

1. Nutrient management strategies 

Sustainable nutrient management strategies go beyond balancing nutrition to get the most efficient production from the system. Not merely changing nutrient levels, sustainable systems synchronize nutrients and use appropriate forms of nutrients and minerals, something that can decrease waste while increasing productivity. "It is a proven concept showing that you can decrease waste and increase productivity by synchronizing or changing the form of the nutrients going into that system so that it is fully synchronized," he said.

"A simple change in the form of a mineral, for example, can dramatically change required inputs," he said. "And by using the appropriate form of a mineral, excretion can be reduced by 75 percent."

2. Supplementation strategies 

Economics usually drive supplementation strategies but can be used to decrease environmental impact. These include the use of functional carbohydrates, the use of microbial supplementation, strategic use of minerals and strategic use of antimicrobials. Strategies like this can improve the efficiency of livestock production by up to 25 percent.

3. Sequestering waste materials 

Technologies that capture waste and convert it to energy represent new sources of income, not only in the form of the energy harvested and in the form of carbon credits.

4. Novel waste management systems 

Advanced technologies for manure handling, which include aerobic, composting and biofilm reaction systems, have been shown in some cases to result in a 99 percent reduction in greenhouse gasses from swine production units. Their use can yield carbon credits and additional income for livestock producers.

5. Developing green feed processing systems 

These include enzyme treatments and microbial fermentation systems. Some produce novel high-value ingredients like carbon dioxide, algae and carbohydrates. Microbial proteins from yeast could replace fishmeal as a feed ingredient.

6. The biorefinery 

The integration of different components in a biorefinery can produce less waste and produce designer feeds using natural chemistry. For example, algae, which sequesters carbon dioxide, can produce a new "crop" every five days for use as an animal feed.

7. Enzyme and microbial biotechnology 

Enzyme and microbial biotechnologies allow the use of orphan crop and agricultural byproducts (corncobs, wood products, dried distillers grain solubles) as raw materials for feedstock production. This improves the efficiency of livestock production systems.

8. Microbial systems for detoxification 

These technologies could make previously toxic feedstuffs available for animal production. Deteriorated or contaminated feed could be rendered wholesome, resulting in an increase in available feeds. Known toxins could be sequestered in feeds.

9. Advanced monitoring technologies 

New analytical tools (such as NIR biosensors) used to monitor the health and nutrition of animals can improve efficiency and nutrient utilization.

Live animal production is influential to the quality of the atmosphere, land and soil, water and the planet's biodiversity. While challenges exist, livestock production can also be an important source of solutions. These solutions, Dr. Dawson says, could be addressed at reasonable costs.