Environmental footprints were on the agenda during the virtual Midwest Pork Conference in December. Brett Kaysen of the National Pork Board discussed an analysis of a retrospective assessment of U.S. pork production between 1960 and 2015 by researchers in the Ag Engineering Department at the University of Arkansas. This assessment was paid for with Pork Checkoff dollars and completed in 2018.
Kaysen noted that the analysis concluded that pork farmers reduced land usage by 75.9%, water usage by 25.1%, carbon footprint by 7.7% and energy usage by 7% between 1960 and 2015. The study also stated that most of the shift toward using fewer resources started around the mid-1970s. This led to a steady decline in energy usage and production of greenhouse gases.
The study recognized there have been many structural changes in the industry over the past 55 years. The environmental improvements are due to production systems, and daily feed and manure management. Through this study, it’s important to recognize that without reducing the environmental footprint over the past 55 years, the cumulative impacts for the whole sector would be much larger today, Kaysen said.
For hog farmers to continue this environmental success, sticking to good practices is imperative, based on conclusions from the study. That means continuing to strive to give consumers what they want while keeping an eye on safety and efficiency when raising hogs for consumption.
Hog farmers will continue to deal with many different factors when it comes to raising hogs in the 21st century. Trade, new technology, animal health and well-being, and labor will be among the hardest challenges for U.S. pork farmers, Kaysen said.
Dealing with numerous challenges encourages pork producers to continuously improve with regards to environmental factors to be the best pork farmers around the world, he concluded.
Wiley is a senior in agricultural communication at Purdue University. Tom J. Bechman contributed to this article.