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A Golden Chance to Green the Planet

Science Lends a Hand to Lower Footprint

A Golden Chance to Green the Planet

As anyone lost in the forest will attest, you won’t know where to go if you don’t know where you are. In response to interest from producers and processors, researchers performed a comprehensive survey to help the pork sector get even greener and more productive. In the process, much has been learned about past production, the present state of the industry and areas to target for future growth.

To gather the information, integrated and independent producers from across Canada were invited to complete an online survey that covered everything from lighting to manure storage to diet composition. Based on about 100 responses, along with aggregate data gathered on some integrated producers, scientists gained a clearer picture in a number of areas:

Progress on production

Overall, the survey showed that the pork sector in Canada is becoming more efficient, which is good for both producers and the planet. Tracking progress from 1995 to 2020 (researchers relied on Statistics Canada figures and industry experts for historical data), gains were noted in almost every aspect of production. For example, indicators like live weight per sow and number of pigs marketed per sow increased. Litter size and number of piglets weaned have also improved, so that producers need fewer sows to achieve the same production levels.

As well, the industry reduced the excretion of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, while lowering greenhouse gas emissions linked to production of feed and manure storage by anywhere from 10-35%.

The biggest driver of production gains has been improved genetics. Animals are now able to gain more weight over a shorter period of time, which means less feed is required and there is less manure to store.

The changing face of feed

Diet is another area that has changed dramatically. Producers and nutritionists are using more byproducts and engaging in more recycling of feed ingredients. The nutritional composition of pig diets has also been enhanced over time, thanks in part to additives like enzymes. Among other things, these additives have increased the availability of phosphorus in the diet, require les pH adjustement and save money in doing so.

Bettering the barn

Part of getting greener and more productive is enhancing barn design, which has occurred on a number of fronts. More efficient pumps and cooling systems are part of the picture, along with modern lighting that uses fewer kilowatts per hour of energy.

Now that the team has done an initial analysis of the data, they plan to take a deeper dive and make connections: How much of the production gains can be attributed to diet versus reproductive success? To what degree have changes in manure storage reduced greenhouse gas emissions?

From there, researchers hope to offer recommendations for continued progress in the swine sector, such as the trapping of manure gases, upgrading lighting fixtures to LED and low usage systems, and employing cold climate heat pumps instead of relying on propane or natural gas.

Diet enhancements might include more use of organic materials produced as byproducts from food processing, among other things.

The pork sector could also look at further reducing nitrous oxide emissions from the production of field crops like barley, wheat and corn, as this could go a long way towards shrinking the environmental footprint of production.

From concept to completion

A national survey has many moving parts, and scientists had help at every stage of the process. At the outset, a technical advisory group of industry and academics formulated the survey questions. Provincial pork boards across Canada assisted in contacting producers, and an agricultural polling group then conducted the survey. When the team needed to shore up the results with additional data, Meyers Norris Penny contacted their independent and integrated producer clients for more information.

Aiding with the footprint and diet aspects of the survey was Dr. Candido Pomar, research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) at the Sherbrooke Research and Development Centre. Finally, Clarence Froese, director of nutrition with Genesus Inc., helped with comparing pig diets from 1995 to 2020.

Once all analysis is complete, the industry will have improved data on production efficiency and the environmental footprint from greenhouse gas emissions. The information will support a greater understanding of the environmental impacts of the pork sector and provide a point of reference for future studies.


Project Title:  Advancing the Canadian swine sector by environmental footprint improvements

Lead(s)/Co-Lead(s): Dr. Mario Tenuta (University of Manitoba)

Key investigator(s): Dr. Qiang Zhang (University of Manitoba)

Budget: $555 899

Research Methods

The survey sought to establish a database of production information, mainly populated by producers and processors in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta.

Those provinces were chosen as they are the top four in Canada for pork production.

The online survey took 35-40 minutes to complete and was divided into different sections of a pork operation:

i. Composition of pork production in terms of types of pigs produced and staging of animals within production classes and the barns themselves;

ii. Specifications related to lighting, water, heating and cooling;

iii. Manure storage, both inside and outside the barn, and manure application to fields;

iv. Feed and diet composition and feed source (producing their own feed or purchasing mixed rations from a third party).

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