The challenges of reducing the impact of intensive agriculture on the environment are being addressed at all sectors of the Agri-food chain. The animal feed trade in particular has taken a leading role in promoting resource efficiency and precision nutrition as a means of managing emissions to both air and water.

Last week’s webinar hosted by the Agri-food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and supported by John Thompsons and Devenish Nutrition has challenged some of the established practices in pig nutrition. A number of presentations outlined the results from a research programme delivered under the auspices of the Pig Research Consortium and demonstrated the value of collaboration between business and academia in producing highly relevant, farm-based research which produces a real benefit to the industry.

The webinar reported on the programme of work focussing particularly on dietary management as a means of reducing ammonia emissions to the atmosphere. The precise rationing of protein in the diet is the key to minimising the level of unutilised protein, which passes through the animal and is excreted as nitrogen. This nitrogen can be volatilised as ammonia and released to the atmosphere in the storage, handling and spreading of slurry and has been linked to damage to susceptible species of plant life in environmentally sensitive areas.

Different levels of dietary protein have been trialled for pigs at different ages and comparisons of the nutritional requirements of gilts versus boars have been made. This has enabled precisely formulated feed programmes to be developed –  using essential amino acids to optimise the performance of the pig while minimising the protein input. This is a delicate balancing act since a non-balanced protein reduction, which slows down the growth rate of the pig means more days to slaughter and an increase in the overall ammonia produced.

The results of the programme are pointing to a number of important messages, which can allow more efficient and cost-effective feed regimes for the provinces pig farmers – while reducing the environmental impact of the industry.

“The network of FAR registered feed advisers will have a key role to play in the communication of these messages at farm level”, says Robin Irvine of NIGTA who have developed and deliver the Feed Advisers Register training programme in Northern Ireland in conjunction with CAFRE and AFBI. “The precise application of the research recommendations will need to be tailored to meet the circumstances of each individual farm and the new training module for pig advisers will incorporate the latest guidance on protein rationing for finishing pigs”.

“With over one hundred advisers trained and accredited to the ruminant module, we are now looking forward to delivery of the course for pig specialists in the coming weeks”