Comprehensive feed system maximizes hog production, and manages environmental effects

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Pig production is important in Minnesota. So are clean air, water and soil.

Shoreview, Minnesota-based Land O’Lakes Purina Feed has come up with a unique package of products it calls EcoCare® Feed, meant to comprehensively optimize the production of pork while helping to improve the environmental performance of pig farms, according to Mariela Lachmann, a swine nutrition specialist at the company. Among other issues, the feed offers nutrients and technologies that address concerns like air emissions, nitrogen and phosphorous content in manure.

“We want to put all the tools, all the best management practices into a single program, so that we are environmentally sustainable,” said Lachmann who noted that an important element of sustainability is farmer success [or profit potential].

Lachmann, who did her undergraduate and master training in animal nutrition in her native Venezuela, noted that the program required students to learn all about agronomy, so that they understood the crops that became the animals’ food. She went on to earn her Ph.D. at Oklahoma State University, and brought with her the sense of how all the elements of agriculture have to work in concert, in order to achieve success.

She said, “There’s a lot of research in this area. One focus is emissions. You can have a big impact on ammonia emissions, and you can cut dust emissions by manipulation of the diet. It’s a management plan that creates a full circle. With those things in place, we will have a better chance to encourage growth of the industry in Minnesota.”

With a gross income of $2.6 billion dollars, Minnesota hog producers ranked second only to Iowa in economic impact. Producers marketed 17,152,000 head last year, and they were second nationally in pounds marketed—more than 3.8 billion pounds (USDA-NASS, Minnesota field office). And this industry constitutes a major market for Minnesota produced crops, particularly corn and soybeans. Approximately 16 percent of corn produced in Minnesota went to animal production within the state (MDA).

Some of the elements of EcoCare® Feed include the use of phytase enzyme to make the phosphorous in grains and oil seeds more available to the pig digestive tract. With less inorganic phosphorous needed as a feed additive, less phosphorous passes through the animal and into the manure. Phosphorous can be a limiting nutrient when it comes to spreading manure—phosphorous runoff can create unwanted algae growth in lakes—so the proper balance of nutrients may help the pig producer optimize their profit potential from the sale of manure. Another element in EcoCare® Feed is the use of amino acids that helps reduce ammonia emission from manure, which can improve the air quality in the vicinity of the pig production facility.

By themselves these ingredients are in use throughout the industry, but the comprehensive design of the feed program, with an eye to environmental impact is a new marketing concept.

“I consider this an industry-leading approach and depending on the nutrition technology they are using, it is promising,” said Prof. Jerry Shurson, a swine nutrition expert at the University of Minnesota.

Land O’Lakes Purina Feed’s internal research showed reductions of ammonia volatilization of 18 percent in manure during a 45-day trial from EcoCare® fed pig compared to a control group fed with a conventional ration. Other studies at Oklahoma State University indicated a potential to drop ammonia emissions up to 40 percent over the entire finishing period (J. Anim. Sci. 2009. 87 (E-Suppl.):51). They estimate over time, EcoCare® Feed could be an important player to enhance air quality in commercial situations, through the use of crystalline amino acids and complementary manure technologies.

“Manure storage, manure nutrient concentration and air quality—all these things can be influenced by the nutrition program,” said Lachmann. “Through what you feed to the pigs, you can influence emissions, excretions, even viscosity. The key is that it has to be economical for producers. Not only do we need to avoid producing more waste, but we have to offer something that is going to work for the business of producers, to help producers be more environmentally responsible and better received in the community around them. We need to understand in today’s market that manure is not a waste—it is part of a ‘savings account’ for the pork producer. Since the producer plans to offer it for use with a crop producer’s fertilizer program, we can gear the diet to produce manure with the nutrients to match crop requirements.”

EcoCare® Feed has been on the market since 2006, and initial customer feedback lead them to believe that this environmentally friendly feeding program will lead an important market segment in a direction that helps industry respond to consumer and regulatory demands as they continue to develop.


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