North Carolina Pig Farmers Go Green
Alan Parker and his family have breathed new life into an aging farm in Southeast North Carolina.
They dismantled old livestock buildings. They recycled the metal, found other uses for the lumber and crushed the concrete for use on the farm’s roadways. In their place, they built six double-wide pig nurseries with ventilation systems that discharge air away from nearby homes and traffic. They constructed waterways, diversions and holding ponds to handle rain that falls on the farm’s 1.75 acres of roof area.
Now a fully functioning farm, the family strategically places the animal waste as natural fertilizer. The farm participates in wildlife programs to promote habitat for ducks, quail and songbirds. Yet their overarching role is to care for as many as 19,200 pigs at once as a contract nursery for Clinton-based Prestage Farms.
Within seven months of starting their operation, the Parker family earned an environmental award for their efforts.
“My goal today – and to the day I leave this earth – is to be a producer of wholesome, safe pork and do everything I can to protect the environment in ways I’m required to by the state and beyond,” Parker says. “My plan is for this to be a multi-generation farm.”
Farmer innovation, new technology, regulatory compliance, and industry and land-grant university research combine to improve animal and environmental care in North Carolina’s pork industry. The result: higher levels of environmental management than ever before.
“There is a strong attitude among our producers to comply, and compliance is a highest priority,” says Deborah Johnson, chief executive officer of the North Carolina Pork Council.
Compliance makes the neighbors happy, but it also makes good business sense. In fact, hog farmer Bundy Lane believes environmental management and production management are synonymous on his 4,800-sow farrow-to-wean farm in Gates County. (Farrow-to-wean farms specialize in care during the birthing process, known as farrowing, until the piglets are weaned and sent to another farm to grow.)
“What’s efficient is efficient for both production and environmental management,” says Lane, an eighth-generation farmer. “Some people have this notion that we’re doing it just to feel good, but the best protection of the environment is the best use of the resources. And we don’t waste them.”
Throughout North Carolina, hog farmers prove they can do more with less.
“The greatest impact we’ve made on the environment is through feed conversions,” Parker says. “Our feed conversions are the best they’ve ever been, which in turn reduces the amount of waste that goes into a lagoon and [is] applied to the fields.”
Pigs today produce more pork per pound of feed than in the past, and farmers do not use growth promotants, a myth among the general public. In fact, Parker estimates improvements in genetics and nutrition have cut feed conversions 25 percent over the last 15 years.
Likewise, water use is reduced. Parker’s farm adopted the cup watering system, which reduces his herd’s water usage and waste discharge by 50 percent over the trough watering system common years ago.
And farmers today share the knowledge and ability to capture, treat and recycle nutrients from hog manure in more improved ways than just a generation ago, Johnson says.
In fact, hog farmer Tommy Porter uses manure as efficiently as possible on his 2,200-sow farrow-to-wean multiplication farm in Cabarrus County.
“We utilize all the waste on the farm. I call it the ultimate in recycling,” he says. “Fertilizer is very expensive. The waste that is produced on the farm is valuable to us. We want it to go as far as it will.”
The Farm at Brusharbor analyzes soil and waste samples at a laboratory. Porter, therefore, considers the nutrients already in the soil, the nutrients in the manure and the nutrient needs of his farm’s crops to determine the precise amounts for application to their land.
The Porters are also mindful of the level of odor and its direction before, during and after applications. The family hosts weddings and events on their farm, and they also remain aware of the social functions of the neighboring church and daycare, so they are able to adjust the farm’s waste application schedule accordingly.
Environmental Stewardship Evolves
Making environmental improvements remains a cooperative effort. Farmers partner with government service providers, educators, researchers, conservationists and their communities to adopt improved environmental practices.
Industry research from the National Pork Board and production companies proves valuable, Johnson says. Farmers also rely on leading pork industry research at North Carolina State University, which is delivered to farmers through the North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Specialists help farmers calibrate equipment and teach them how to measure a farm’s carbon footprint, Johnson says. They deliver university-researched recommendations about soil nutrient levels and lagoon management. Farmers also learn new production methods, which feature elevated levels of environmental care.
Simply stated, North Carolina hog farmers actively approach environmental stewardship as more than a state-mandated requirement. They feel accountable to the rural communities in which they live – and to the legacy they create for future generations of farmers.
“My children were raised here. We drink water out of the same wells as the animals. We breathe the same air. We play in the fields where the animals are and waste is spread. We play in the creeks,” Porter says. “We want to take care of everything the very best that we can because it’s not only where we’re making a living, but it’s also where we live.”
– Joanie Stiers
By the Numbers
- 9.5 million: hogs cared for by North Carolina farmers
- 46,000: state jobs generated by the pork industry
- $2.5 billion: amount the industry contributes to the state economy
- 2nd: North Carolina’s national rank for hog production