Friday 30 April 2021Navigating a Route to Net Zero Pig Systems
Pig farmers are currently under financial pressure due to a volatile market with rising cost and decreasing pig prices. Covid-19 caused workforce issues at abattoirs, leaving thousands of pigs stuck on farms. At the same time, DEFRA’s new welfare code demands the extra provision of manipulable material, resulting in further cost. To compound these stresses, the pig industry must also focus on reducing carbon emissions and working towards a net-zero operation.
What does net zero mean?
Understanding the scientific definition of net zero and appreciating its political implications is difficult enough. Formulating working practices that support it is another challenge altogether. The UK government’s Climate Change Act and its commitment to the Paris Agreement mean that by 2050 the country must cut greenhouse gas emissions to at least 100% below 1990 levels.
We’re currently about halfway through the allotted timeframe and have reduced emissions by approximately 50%. This has happened mainly thanks to power stations burning less coal, as well as domestic efforts such as improved home insulation and the use of low-energy lighting. In many ways, these were the quick wins – clawing back the remaining 50% will be harder, and the clock’s ticking. Along with transport, agriculture is increasingly in the spotlight as an area in which carbon must be cut.
Counting the cost
In 1kg of farmed pig meat, 60% of the carbon produced can be attributed to feed. So it’s logical to look here first when seeking carbon savings. It’s here that pigs offer a big advantage over other livestock. Because they’ll eat and thrive on pretty much anything, pig feed can be made from ingredients – co-products – that other sectors would struggle with and which may otherwise go to waste or into energy production.
When it comes to counting carbon – and who’s responsible for it – there are some very complex sums to do. If feed is made from grain grown specifically for animal nutrition, that feed carries a carbon allocation and that allocation sits on the farmer’s carbon balance sheet. But feed made from co-products is different.
Put simply, the economic value of any food-production process lies with its primary product, be that cheese, beer or potato chips. Therefore, the majority of the carbon responsibility is attributed to the primary product. Co-products with no economic value are given no carbon responsibility, or what is known as ‘greenhouse-gas flux’. So by replacing grain with co-products, there’s a clear and immediate carbon win.
Happily, there is also a financial win, as co-products are a cost-effective feed choice. While it is generally understood that reducing carbon increases production costs, there are opportunities to make savings while striving for net zero.
Making waste work
By feeding co-products – which are nutritionally effective and support animal growth – farmers can be well on the way to achieving net zero. The government, through its Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP), supports the idea, preferring the use of co-products as livestock feed to alternatives such as anaerobic digestion.
And there may be additional economic benefits on the horizon. In the future, there is real potential for low-carbon-fed meat carrying a premium similar to the welfare premiums we know now. With this in mind, many larger operations have already switched to low-carbon feed. It is also probable that the post-Brexit replacement for the Basic Payment Scheme will offer farmers incentive payments to reduce carbon. For pig production, that’s likely to be a carbon-credit feed scheme.
Many initiatives at Duynie are driven by climate change and the need to reduce our environmental impact. To comply with, and outperform regulations, we have been working with our supply chain to reduce water use in the processing of co-products. That’s led us to innovations such as the development of an enzyme to break starch into sugar. In potato puree processing, this turns a porridge-like material into a lemonade-like material. Not only is the product easier to pump, it also offers an increased dry matter percentage and savings in water use and transport are marked.
In terms of manipulable material provision, care needs to be taken not to benefit welfare while damaging the environment. Products like Duynie brewers grains can be offered instead of straw. Not only do they have nutrition benefits, but also costs are lower and carbon is low or zero. The focus on low-carbon alternatives for manipulable material has prompted much innovation, and soon there will be new products to meet the demand.
Interested in using co-products as part of your climate-change planning? Contact Martin Barker, our dedicated Sustainability Manager, to discuss how Duynie can help.