Decades of Improvement
More than five decades of continuous improvement in the pork industry has led to more sustainable farms. Over the past 50 years, pig farms have reduced their environmental impact by using:
Farmers continue to implement new standards that will allow them to further protect air and water quality and minimize the impact on neighbors and the community. Overall, greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. animal agriculture have remained steady even though protein production has increased. Agriculture accounts for about 9% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and pork production accounts for less than 0.3%.
RAISING PIGS WITH THE PRINCIPLES OF REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE
Chad Bell: Farmer from Viola, IL
As a pig farmer, I think about the Earth’s natural resources every day. Land, water, and air are critical to farmers and our ability to continue to provide an affordable food supply. I want to preserve and improve these natural resources, minimize waste and above all, farm in a sustainable way.
You could say we’re using the principles of the three R’s we all learned about in elementary school – reduce, reuse, recycle – to meet our sustainability goals.
We’re raising more pigs and more pork on fewer acres than in the past. That’s definitely a good thing because we’re also reducing our carbon footprint. The footprint of our barns is smaller today than the land that was required to raise pigs outdoors years ago. We’re also better able to care for our pigs in this controlled environment.
Pig farmers like me have made some huge improvements in our overall carbon footprints. In the last 50 plus years, for every pound of pork we raise we’re using 25% less water, 7% less energy, almost 8% less carbon and 75% less land. Raising pigs today contributes less than one half of one percent (.46%) to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
On our farm, I built a new barn just two years ago. The smart technology in it helps us create a climate controlled environment with feed and water sensors so pigs have access to food and water 24/7, and helps us save energy overall. In the fields, precision agriculture combined with less tillage of the soil reduces the amount of fossil fuels we use to raise crops that we use for feed and other uses.
Illinois is one of the best places in the world to raise crops and livestock. Our fertile soils are great for growing corn and soybeans that can be used for many things, including livestock feed for our pigs. Some of our feed ingredients are sourced from within a hundred miles of our farm, but otherwise what the pigs are eating is all locally grown and processed. Local crops turn into local feed and local feed creates local pork.
Crops also are used for many other purposes besides feed. Corn, soybeans, and wheat all end up in your grocery store shelves in a variety of ways both directly and indirectly. Ethanol and biodiesel, made from corn and soybeans, provide clean air alternatives that reduce emissions and improve our atmosphere, and the byproducts of those processes create healthy feed for our livestock, further continuing the cycle.
Recycling is all about the valuable nutrients that come from animal waste, or manure. Every year is a new year to repeat the cycle of raising crops, feeding the crop to the pigs and then recycling the manure back onto our crop fields as a natural fertilizer. This natural fertilizer not only contains the key nutrients of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus that crops need to grow, but it also contains micronutrients and microorganisms that add organic matter and improve soil health.
Manure from our pigs is stored under our barn and saved until it can be applied to the fields after harvest. When we apply the manure, a specialized machine applies the material below the surface of the soil. This does two things: It keeps the manure underground so rain doesn’t wash away the nutrients, and it helps control odor so we’re being good neighbors within our communities.
IT ALL ADDS UP
For me, there’s a definite sense of pride planting the seed in the spring and watching it grow. I do the best that I can to raise that seed into a productive plant and harvest the crop that ultimately feeds my pigs. It’s a satisfying experience to go into the grocery store and see a full meat case, knowing that I had a part in helping supply quality meat.
So the next time you’re enjoying a great meal with pork tenderloin, pork chops, sausage, bacon – you get the idea – you can eat happy knowing that livestock farming is sustainable and provides quality protein for your family and mine.