How do we produce the pig of the future?

This week I spent some time on an upcoming presentation I’m doing in Germany next month on how do we produce the pig of the future. For 45 minutes I get to use my crystal ball and think about the challenges and opportunities the global pork production community has in front of them.

As we face the challenges of meeting a growing world populations food demands, all of agriculture will have to become better. The biggest challenge here is how to educate the non-agricultural consumer about the technology advances we need to apply to our production realm, whether it is GMO grain production, confinement livestock production, recombinant DNA vaccines or who knows what. We no longer have the option of meeting the world’s nutritional needs by organic production methods only or with technology from the 1950’s.

In the US the application of advances in production technology has meant that from 1959 to 2009 the amount of water used per pound of carcass weight has been reduced 41%, the amount of land necessary to grow the feed grains has been reduced 78% and the carbon footprint associated with this overall production has been reduced 35% (www.pork.org). It is reasonable to expect future gains to be even larger.

Pork production continues to follow feed grain production. The only region where this isn’t happening is China where government policy is resulting in a large swine industry dependent on feed grain imports. In the rest of the world, pork (and poultry) production is growing in the Ukraine, South America and the corn belt. It is stable or shrinking in such places as Denmark, the Netherlands and the Carolinas as populations near production sites expand.

As we look towards productions’ future, we have to think bigger pigs at slaughter and more pigs per female. These trends are not only evident in the US and Canadian markets but are showing up world-wide. At the same time we need to think about the impact of global warming on production facilities. More of our time will be spent dealing with heat removal issues from production facilities as we devise new methods to keep growing and lactating pigs in their thermal neutral temperature zones.

Food safety and traceability will become production responsibilities. We are already seeing the application of HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) thinking to feed mills. This type of risk prevention will become common place in production facilities as we seek to prevent the entry of foreign animal diseases or viruses from neighboring facilities. Buyers of pork products from food processors (what we think of as slaughter plants) will require product trace-back capabilities to individual production sites. They will increasingly involve production systems in the whole food safety trail.

We will use more information in the daily management of our facilities and the pigs in the facilities. Rather than using close-out information we will use real-time growth information to monitor production. We will be better able to deliver the right pig to the right processor at the right time for the benefit of the entire food chain.

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