Sustainability is critical to pork producers, National Pork Board President Conley Nelson told reporters Wednesday at World Pork Expo in Des Moines, adding that pork producers view sustainability as something larger than just the traditional environmental definitions.
"If you do what is right from a production standpoint, you also will improve the environment; and if you do what is right for the environment, you also will improve production," said Nelson, a farmer from Algona, Iowa. "Doing the right thing has allowed our industry to reduce the amount of water we use to produce of a pound of pork. Doing the right thing has helped our industry reduce our carbon footprint. And doing the right thing has helped us become more sustainable through changes in the way we raise pigs."
Nelson said he tells fellow farmers that to understand where we are as an industry, we first needed to take a look back. What the data showed was decades of continuous improvement. The new research validates what farmers have always believed: that the production improvements we've made in our industry have improved the environmental sustainability of today's modern pork farms.
The new Checkoff-funded study analyzed how the industry's gains in production efficiency over the last 50 years have affected pork's environmental impact. Everything affecting pork's footprint at the farm level was included in the model, including feed, water, energy, land and crop-nutrient resources needed to produce pork.
"This is exciting stuff for those who have an interest in how we care for our pigs today," Nelson said. "In 1978, a sow in the U.S. would produce 9.95 pigs per year. Today, through better care of our animals, improved diets, and better housing, a typical sow will produce 9.97 pigs per litter - an amazing increase since sows are typically able to have at least two litters per year. Caring for more animals, while using fewer resources, benefits farmers, consumers, and the environment."
Other notable data from the research includes:
- Water use has been reduced 41 percent per pound of carcass weight
- Land use has been reduced 78 percent per pound of carcass weight
- Carbon footprint has been reduced 35 percent per pound carcass weight
"This research shows the progress we've made over the last 50 years, but it is our commitment to continuous improvement during the next 50 years that will be critical to feed a growing population," Nelson said.
As an example of continuous improvement, Nelson reported that participation in the Pork Quality Assurance® Plus (PQA Plus®) program has reached record levels. As of June 1, more than 16,654 sites representing 74.93 percent of the U.S. pig inventory have been independently assessed, and over 55,000 individual producers are participating in PQA Plus.