In a business environment, the phrase “doing more with less” often refers to creating production efficiencies that lead to greater output, which reduces costs and impacts on the environment – a win-win situation. Like many industries, animal agriculture is no different. The less feed producers need to raise animals, the more money they have available to invest back into their farms, while lowering their environmental impact and still meeting consumers’ dietary needs.
The American Feed Industry Association promotes scientific research that fosters innovation in agriculture as one of its core values because we know that modern technology and processes - coupled with improvements in animal breeding, genetics and animal husbandry - leads to more people having access to safe, affordable and nutritious meat, milk, egg and aquaculture products. We also know that by focusing on improving animal nutrition with better quality ingredients - AFIA’s fourth sustainability pillar - that we can reduce waste, conserve natural resources and save consumers money.
For example, the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, one of AFIA’s partners, recently shared data that chickens in the 1940s required approximately 16 pounds of feed to achieve a 4-pound weight, but now, they require half that to achieve the same weight. In improving the feed for laying hens with better quality ingredients, farmers are now harvesting roughly 27 percent more eggs daily, while using 32 percent less water and reducing agriculture’s overall carbon footprint, since less grains need to be transported to market.
AFIA works on a number of projects to enhance animal nutrition through precise technologies, a better understanding of ingredients, and the use of new ingredients in feed and pet food. Below are a few recent examples of this work.
In recent years, AFIA has worked with its public charity, the Institute for Feed Education and Research, to support research projects aimed at learning more about how different species digest various feed ingredients. The objective of this research is to help industry nutritionists better tailor feed formulas for their target species that optimize nutrient absorption and reduce the excretion of excess nutrients, which in some cases could be harmful to the environment.
The most recent project, completed in the fall of 2018, assessed how well dairy cattle digest essential amino acids in seven common feed ingredients (corn silage, grass hay, alfalfa hay, soybean hulls, dried distillers’ grains with solubles, brewers’ grains and corn). As dairy nutritionists move away from formulating diets based on crude or metabolizable protein in favor of ones that meet specific amino acid requirements, this research will help them better tailor the dietary needs of the dairy cattle they are serving, while reducing the amount of nitrogen that is excreted into the environment. This research will be included into various dairy models used by the industry, such as the National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements of Dairy Cattle, which is slated to be updated in the coming years.
Another project AFIA has been involved in is working with U.S. animal food manufacturers to collect data on the emissions generated by various feed ingredients throughout their life-cycles. This “gold standard” tool will assist animal food manufacturers in assessing and benchmarking their environmental impact, providing producers the information they need to select ingredients that will help them achieve their sustainability goals.
AFIA launched the Global Feed LCA Institute (GFLI) project in 2016 in partnership with the European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation (FEFAC), the Animal Nutrition Association of Canada and the International Feed Industry Federation. Since then, many AFIA members have been providing input into the database, using the methodology created under the Livestock Environmental Assessment Performance (LEAP) Project. The database is expected to be made publicly available in 2019.
In the future, AFIA will be involved in developing a similar database for measuring the environmental impact of feed additives used in cattle diets. The goal is to select ingredients that are more easily digested by cattle to reduce the amount of nutrients that are excreted in manure.