by Courtney Llewellyn

Like other sectors of U.S. agriculture, those who raise pigs are seeking out ways to be both more productive and sustainable. Sara Crawford, Ph.D., vice president of sustainability at the National Pork Board, discussed what the industry is doing during the recent “Creating the path to more sustainable pork” webinar.

“We are part of the solution,” Crawford said of pig farmers, who provide a low impact on the environment, improve soil health and raise lean, quality, affordable protein. She added that the pig industry creates only 0.5% 0.5% of all agricultural methane emissions.

Crawford referenced a University of Arkansas study that looked at the impacts of pig farming from 1960 to 2015. During that time, there was a 75% decrease of land usage, 25% less water used, 7% less energy used and 8% fewer carbon emissions released. “But our pig farmers are not satisfied with that,” she said. “We want to continue moving forward.”

A commitment to what’s right for people, pigs and the planetSo the National Pork Board initiated a producer-led goal-setting process, a multi-year process with all those along the supply chain. They started with assessment of key market and societal value drivers, which led to prioritization of social and environmental issues for goal setting. From there, they identified ambition levels within each area of sustainability before drafting time-bound goals.

Crawford said their goals align with the UN We Care Ethical principles, focusing on our people, the environment, food safety, our communities, animal well-being and public health. “U.S. Pork supports 15 of 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. We’re excited about that,” she said.

For example, an “Our People” goal is providing access to professional growth and appropriate training opportunities by equipping them to demonstrate leadership at each stage of their career. An “Animal Well-being” goal is staying committed to end-to-end certification that is fully transparent. And an “Environment” goal is to continuously improve water use efficiency through advanced agricultural practices, aggressive implementation of on-farm water use targets and BMPs.

Frank Mitloehner, Ph.D., professor and air quality Extension specialist at UC-Davis, commented that he is “quite impressed with the progress the pork industry has shown” in becoming more sustainable.

“The pork industry has tripled production over the past few decades, but decreased its impact,” he said. “But there are huge areas for improvement globally, and we’re in a position to lead the world.”

After the goals were set, using 2015 data as a baseline, the U.S. Pork Industry Sustainability Report was released, available at Crawford said they made sure they were aligned with other industries (corn, grain, etc.), making the effort a very collaborative process.

“We know more than the environment is important when we talk about sustainability,” Crawford said. “But we’re looking at land and air and water, because we want to safeguard those resources and improve them.”