A sustainable future for pork producers

Minnesota Pork Board outlines environmental vision for farms

Independent file photo Pictured are hogs at a pork producing farm in southwest Minnesota.

The Minnesota Pork Board says it has a vision for improving the sustainability of pig farms in the state — and it includes protecting natural resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But southwest Minnesota farmers said sustainability is already something they think about in their business.

“We are striving very hard to measure, document and improve the sustainability of our farms, including aspects related to climate change,” said Minnesota Pork Board President Brad Hennen. It’s also a question of finding ways to make pig farms more efficient and economically sustainable, he said.

In a report released last week, the Pork Board laid out voluntary best practices for environmental sustainability, as well as a goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions 40% by 2030.

Planting cover crops, managing manure more effectively and reducing energy use were among some of the most effective ways to reduce emissions, the report said.

“All of those things collectively are certainly attainable,” said Mike Boerboom, owner of Boerboom Ag Resources near Marshall. However, both Boerboom and Hennen agreed that farmers weren’t looking for a top-down approach to sustainability.

The Minnesota Pork Board collaborated with the National Pork Board and The Nature Conservancy on its report. The report was based on research including a series of interviews with 10 Minnesota pig farmers, Minnesota Pork said.

“We’ve outlined what pig farmers have been doing to improve their practices and care for their pigs, people, and the environment,” Minnesota Pork CEO David Preisler said in a news release. “We know there are big challenges ahead when it comes to social, economic, and climate issues. We’ve outlined the measurable goals and needed resources and support that will help farmers achieve those goals.”

Iowa is the United States’ biggest pork producer, and Minnesota ranks second with more than 3,000 pig farms, Minnesota Pork said.

Animal agriculture accounts for about 8% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The Minnesota Pork Board’s report includes a framework of sustainability goals from the National Pork Board, like goals for food safety, animal well-being, and environmental sustainability. The environmental goals include reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030.

Using a 2,400-hog model farm in Blue Earth, Minnesota Pork was able to identify activities that farmers can use to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the report said. Planting cover crops and using no-till techniques in farm fields, improving manure management, and restoring wetlands were among the biggest ways to reduce emissions. Other ways to make pig farms more sustainable included using solar panels, and using alternative feed ingredients like dried distillers’ grains created by ethanol production.

Boerboom said improving environmental sustainability has been an ongoing discussion in the pork industry.

“As time has gone on it’s become more of an issue,” Boerboom said. Large farms especially have come under scrutiny, he said.

Pig farmers already consider sustainability measures as they look at ways to make their operations more efficient, Boerboom said. In one example, he said Boerboom Ag had studied the equipment used to feed its pigs, and found that using a wet/dry feeder would conserve water compared to a system with an additional water source.

Hennen said he participated in the Pork Board’s report, sharing data about his farm like the size and structure of his barn, how electricity was used, and where manure was applied.

The Pork Board’s report emphasized that its sustainability plan is voluntary. One of their key findings was that Minnesota pig farmers didn’t think a “one size fits all” approach to sustainability would work.

Being able to take a flexible approach to sustainability measures is important, because not all farms are the same, Hennen and Boerboom said.

“There are a lot of different decisions that can be made by producers,” Boerboom said.

“Farms vary significantly in terms of size, and in terms of production practices,” Hennen said. “There’s the conditions of the environment around your farm. People have different skill sets as well.”

Also factoring into the balance for pork producers are their farms’ profitability and survival, Hennen said.

“Sustainability needs to take a lot of parameters into account,” Hennen said.

Hennen said he hoped the report would be a way to help communicate the ways that Minnesota pork producers are already working to make their farms more efficient and sustainable.

“We want to communicate what we do in terms of sustainability,” Hennen said. “We have no desire to degrade the environment in any way.”


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