Study shows U.S. pig farmers making major sustainability progress

Analysis of 55 years of pig farming reveals gains in all key metrics.
National Pork Board
April 29, 2019
By National Pork Board
PorkCheckoff
A recent study from the University of Arkansas shows the U.S. pork industry has made great progress in multiple key sustainability metrics over the course of more than five decades.

According to the study, A Retrospective Assessment of U.S. Pork Production: 1960 to 2015, the inputs needed to produce a pound of pork in the United States have become more environmentally friendly over time. Specifically, 75.9 percent less land is needed, 25.1 percent less water and seven percent less energy. This also has resulted in a 7.7 percent smaller carbon footprint. 

To save as much water as today's pig farms do over their predecessors of 50-plus years ago, the average American would have to take 90 fewer showers per year. Likewise, to understand the energy savings accomplished by pig farmers during the study period, a typical household would need to eliminate the use of a refrigerator altogether.

"The study confirms that U.S. pig farmers like me have been making progress in our ongoing commitment to do what's best for people, pigs and the planet, which is at the heart of the industry's We CareSM initiative," said Steve Rommereim, National Pork Board president and a pig farmer from Alcester, South Dakota. "It's encouraging to see this level of progress in environmental stewardship over the years. It also is helpful to have a benchmark to measure additional improvements."

Unlike some earlier studies, the new Pork Checkoff-funded study used a comprehensive life-cycle assessment approach and the best available methodology along with a field-to-farm gate approach. This meant including material and energy flows associated with the full supply chain, beginning with extraction of raw materials through production of live, market-weight pigs, including marketed sows.

"As it has for decades, the U.S. pork industry will continue to make strides in overall efficiency, which is the major driver behind improving sustainability across all metrics," Rommereim said.

This may come in terms of nutrition, genetics, health management, crop management and overall technology adoption. The ongoing trend is clearly seen in the Arkansas study. Feed conversion (pounds of feed needed for pound of pork gained) started at 4.5 in 1960 and ended at 2.8 in 2015 – a 38 percent improvement even while market hog weights went from 200 pounds to 281 pounds.

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