This past weekend I was in New Orleans for the American Association of Swine Veterinarians annual meeting. In addition to presenting on the ‘Housing Requirements of Heavy Weight Pigs’, I made sure to enjoy Bourbon Street and the tremendous variety of food offerings. As a history buff I made sure to include time on Sunday to spend time soaking up the local history, including the World War Two and the Louis Armstrong museums.
I went to Sunday Mass at the oldest Catholic Cathedral in the US (1857) which stood on ground that had a Catholic church since 1713. Everywhere you turned in New Orleans there was history (and good food) to absorb.
All of that history got me thinking about the history of the US pork industry – what will our legacy be to coming generations of producers and consumers?
So far, I think the legacy is pretty good. In the 1800’s pigs in Ohio were driven to Cincinnati for slaughter as a way to market the grains grown by Ohio farmers. In the 1900’s pigs paid for much of the Midwest farm land. They were called ‘mortgage lifters’ for a very good reason.
So far in the 21st century, I think the legacy is shaping up as supplying the world with animal protein using less of the world’s limited resources with each succeeding generation. As proof of this, consider that Swine Graphics reported the average producer in their 1987 data set grew pigs from 50 to 235 pounds (185 lb of gain) using 645.7 lb of feed (mostly corn and soybean meal).
In 2014 participants in the MetaFarms record system grew pigs from 54.6 to 280.9 lb (226.3 lb of gain) using 649.5 lb of feed. This feed not only included corn and soybean meal but also contained relatively large amounts of distillers dried grains with solubles, a by-product of the ethanol industry.
In this 27 year span we added 41.3 lbs of gain to our pigs and only used 3.8 more pounds of feed. When we combine this very large improvement in efficiency of growth with data on our improvements in reproductive efficiency and data from the Pork Board on the very large decline in our carbon footprint, water use, etc., we’ve got a remarkable history to share with the world.
Pork remains the number 1 animal protein source in the human diet in the world. The history of our efforts in the US through the application of technology and responsible use of resources is a story that needs to be shared as we participate in discussions of how will the world be fed in 2050.