US pig producers have made huge improvements in environmental management over the last 50 years, according to "A 50-Year Comparison of the Carbon Footprint and Resource Use of the U.S. Swine Herd: 1959 - 2009," study. The research found that modern pork production methods have led to a 35 percent decrease in the carbon footprint, a 41 percent reduction in water usage and a 78 percent drop in land needed to produce a pound of pork compared to a 1959 baseline.
"The study underscores just how much improvement farmers have made over the past half century," said Garth Boyd, Ph.D. 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 percent 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 said 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 percent, 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.
The National Pork Board has defined four pillars of environmental sustainability - carbon footprint, water footprint, air footprint and land footprint. According to Conley Nelson, National Pork Board president, 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.
As each of the four pillars of environmental sustainability is 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.