Taking sustainability from concept to calculation

Lowering our carbon footprint

By Drew Woods, M.Sc, NutriOpt Models Manager, Trouw Nutrition

New terms have entered the lexicon of pork production in the past decade, and the newest and arguably most important one is sustainability.

Modern agricultural production has improved many aspects of environmental impacts but animal agriculture is still responsible for 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (FAO, 2013). Pork production is responsible for approximately nine per cent of that total. While this is a large problem to address, we are now capable of using advanced models and metrics to calculate our precise carbon footprint and build mitigation strategies to lower it.

Trouw Nutrition, in conjunction with third party life cycle assessment software, Sima Pro, have a means to model sustainability in swine production with a proprietary swine model.

The analysis includes impacts of crop production, feed processing, feed production, animal management and manure storage. The program can predict multiple environmental impact categories including climate change (CC, kg CO2/kg live weight), acidification, eutrophication, land use, water scarcity and non-renewable energy resources.

Let’s dig deeper into the sustainability factor of climate change. When learning about swine nutrition and formulation, we were always shown that using by-products of human food production was one method of reducing our impact and recycling usable nutrients. While this is somewhat true, we now know it is not the full picture.

Certain products such as those from wheat milling can prove to be very useful in diets while also reducing our carbon footprint. Those from ethanol production do not have the same positive carbon footprint effects. Not all ingredients are equal in their sustainability factors, and now we can show that in a meaningful way.

Efficiency is key

When dealing with complex biological systems like growing pigs, we are always striving to improve efficiency. This is also what is needed to lower GHG emissions and reduce our environmental impact. While there is no silver bullet for providing maximum efficiency and reduced emissions, there are multiple avenues we can explore to assess their impact on the carbon footprint of pork.

Graph comparing emissions by feed and management practice


Health is the single largest influencer of performance in swine production; without health you will not have performance. In following this theme in improved performance, we can now calculate the impact of emissions on a healthy versus poor health herd. When we look at the outputs in the chart, we can see that by improving our health status with the help of veterinary health professionals, we are able to lower emissions from 3.319 kg CO2/kg live weight (poor health) to 3.127 kg CO2/kg live weight (baseline), or by 5.96 per cent improvement to reach baseline values. Investment in health is very important for any herd and now we can also equate animal health with the health of our environment.

Feed form

We have long been aware of the differences between pellet, crumble and mash feed in terms of feed intakes and digestibility, but if we follow these numbers further, we can see their various benefits on emissions. A basal diet in mash form that is either manufactured on-farm or in a facility with no pellet mill will yield an output of 3.104 kg CO2/kg live weight (mash) using the sustainability module. A baseline diet is in pellet form and is used as a comparison measure for the other proposals. When we simply move from a pellet to a mash diet, we can see emission reductions of 0.74 per cent. This is a minor advantage of emissions due to the manufacturing process. However, efficiency loss of the diet limits the overall impact.

Optimal efficiency

Feed should always be used in an optimal and efficient manner but we can now show how improved efficiency can reduce emissions. When taking a standard commercial feed and using the optimization feature of the proprietary swine model, we can arrive at the best solution with the feed conversion ratio (FCR).

This improves the usage of feed and also reduces the CO2 emissions of the herd. Diet formulations that improve digestibility, nutrient utilization and animal production reduce animal outputs into the environment. This in turn reduces emissions. When we look at the numbers, updating a diet for optimal FCR will reduce emissions from 3.127 kg CO2/kg live weight (baseline) to 2.896 kg CO2/kg live weight (FCR), or by 7.67 per cent.

Any of these proposed items alone will improve production on-farm but done together, we can begin to create profound impacts on the reduction of carbon emissions. Pork production has come a long way in the past 50 years, and we have a bright future as one of the most efficient and responsible forms of protein production.

Using all the tools available to us such as biological models and life cycle assessment calculators will allow us to deliver even more value to the consumer and ultimately to the planet on which we all live. BP

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