Treated Beans can reduce the carbon footprint of pig production by 20 – 30%

Sean O’Hare, Engineering and Sustainability Manager 

In our last issue we looked at the associated 50 – 70% improvement in carbon footprint when processing native grain and beans with MycoCURB at harvest.

Going a step further how do the findings from our Treated Beans commercial pig trial impact environmental footprint? In short, they are significant. Results show that native treated beans do not negatively affect performance, have a positive impact on animal health and have the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of pig production by 20% – 30% per unit of output as summarised in Figure 1.

Figure 1 – Environmental footprint of pig meat. Comparison between Western Europe, world and Ireland where native treated beans have been used as the main protein source

The study shows that there are alternatives to simply reducing animal numbers and merits continues support at a national level. Native Treated Beans can certainly play a role in contributing to our national and EU targets. Similar outcomes are likely where native Treated Beans replace imported proteins in other agricultural streams.

Why does using Treated Beans have such an impact on the carbon intensity of pig production? I’ve attempted to explain below.

 

Carbon footprint per unit of output – What is it? 

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is one of the most widely used methods to assess the environmental impact of a product throughout the life cycle of the product (Notarnicola et al., 2017) and is recognised by the European Commission as the best method for environmental assessment of a product (European Commission, 2013). The calculation based methodology looks at all Green House Gas (GHG) emissions associated with a defined process (Carbon dioxide [CO2], Methane [CH4], Nitros Oxide[N2O]). When combined we express as CO2-eq by factoring GHG’s by their Global Warming Potential (GWP). e.g. GWP of CO2 is 1 while the GWP of CH4 & N2O are 25 and 298 respectively, i.e. N2O is 298 times more damaging than the same quantity of CO2.

By doing this we can express the environmental impact of a product by an appropriate functional unit for example;

  • kg CO2-eq / kg beef or pig meat
  • kg CO2-eq / kg chicken meat or egg
  • kg CO2-eq / litre milk
  • kg CO2-eq / tonne feed

 

Carbon footprint per unit of output – Why do it?

LCA, driven by measurement, provides an opportunity to benchmark the environmental footprint of what we do. In many cases it can also highlight the positive work that is already happening in the industry which those involved in the industry are not gaining recognition for. It also allows us to identify where improvements when trying to plan sustainable ideas as well as quantifying the likely impact.

 

Carbon footprint per unit of AGRICULTURAL output – What do we know?

LCA can be a minefield. As well as processes and products being unique by site to a certain extent, there are numerous models available which can lead to different results. As part of our current scientific & commercial trial programme we will completing formal LCA studies on all our trial work to substantiate initial findings. This will be completed in conjunction with UCD & BiOrbic using models recommended for our industry at an EU level.

In saying that, there are indicative figures available internationally and locally on a sector basis. Typically referenced figures for Ireland;

  • 3 kg CO2-eq / kg eggs
  • 4 kg CO2-eq / kg poultry
  • 6 – 7 kg CO2-eq / kg pork
  • 20 kg CO2-eq / kg beef
  • 1.0 – 1.5 kg CO2-eq / litre milk

These figures are up there with the best when we make comparisons internationally, yet agriculture in Ireland is continuously under pressure from an environmental perspective. However, there are still opportunities to improve based on targeted measures using ‘greener’ solutions such as native proteins, heat from biomass, slurry processing.

 

Treated Beans improving the carbon footprint of pig production

In our commercial trial we included 10% & 20% Treated Beans in our grower and finisher diets as a replacement for imported Hi-pro Soya as part of a balanced diet. As performance was and health status were not negatively affected and even improved on certain metrics, this has a knock on effect on the environmental footprint of the pigs. Why?

With reference to Figure 2 a 20 – 30% benefit can be realised if Treated Beans inclusion are maximised in pig diets for the following reasons;

  • Imported Soya is the largest contributing factor to the carbon footprint of pig and poultry production
  • Replacing imported soya with native proteins eliminates the impact of Land Use Change (LUC) associated with deforestation on the pig lifecycle
  • Animal performance is at least maintained – indications that total meat output per cycle can increase where Treated Beans used
  • The inputs for Treated Beans to deliver and process the crop are less than the alternatives
  • The two points above lead to a corresponding reduction in the carbon footprint associated with feed production in the lifecycle

Figure 2 – Breakdown of Carbon footprint source per kg pig meat produced in Western Europe, worldwide and in Ireland where native treated beans are used as the main protein source

 

Next time

Looking at Figure 2 in more detail, we can see there are other contributing factors which have a significant impact. These include slurry management and energy inputs. Adesco are actively involved in solutions for both these areas in conjunction with our partners. In issues to come we will look at the environmental (and economic) benefits of implementing sustainable changes at both farm and mill level, in particular heat/steam from biomass and our slurry to organic odourless fertiliser technology. We can of course also discuss as we visit you throughout the autumn and winter.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact Seán at sean.ohare@adesco.ie