Efficiently run livestock housing is key to productivity, health, welfare and, ultimately, the success of the industry. Proficiently balancing inputs and outputs places some businesses ahead of others and creates more resilience in navigating through the uncertainty of the future while we live through these unprecedented times.
In 2019, English pig producers were asked about their predicted investment into new buildings and technologies. Half of producers surveyed said they are likely to be capping investment into buildings at £50,000, mostly because of the known return in investment and the previously mentioned uncertainty of the industry. Producers do want to invest long term, with more than half keen to build a healthy and sustainable farm business to pass on to the next generation. For producers to have the confidence to invest and drive business improvement, they need reassurance that their investments will increase production efficiency, while also providing welfare and environmental improvements.
Making savings in running costs and inputs is not a new theory in business management plans, but is increasingly at the forefront of investment considerations, not only to streamline production and reduce running costs, but also to support the UK Government’s requirement to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. GrowSave, a collaboration between AHDB and NFU Energy, is a knowledge exchange programme helping both farmers and growers save energy. Until recently, the programme has been focused solely on horticulture, but as energy saving
and management is clearly critical across wider AHDB sectors, the programme has now been expanded into the cereals, dairy, pork and potato sectors. To date, the programme has helped horticultural businesses save energy and reduce their environmental impact, which, due to the volatility of energy prices over the last five years, coupled with the increased demand for year-round produce, have been significant drivers for businesses to carefully manage their energy consumption. Pig producers have similar pressures to meet consumer needs, with running costs, in particular electricity, driving the need for overall efficiency improvements.
GrowSave has already helped businesses recognise areas in which energy savings can be made. A market review and gap analysis have identified current practices and highlighted where changes could be implemented, either now, or in the future, to improve business performance and energy efficiencies, while reducing carbon emissions.
Discussions with pig producers and industry representatives dominated by the themes of slurry treatment, including cooling, LED lighting, automation, and data acquisition. Other themes that people are thinking about include the use and improvement of heating systems or climate control techniques, and the application of renewable energy, such as heat pumps, solar photovoltaics, or anaerobic digestion.
The technique of cooling slurry before it leaves the pig shed brings two principal benefits: ammonia suppression (most producers achieve reductions of 30–50%), and heat recovery. Which of these has the upper hand depends on the individual system. Installation of this technology is most efficient in new buildings but can be retrofitted.
Other slurry treatments, such as plasma reactors producing ammonium nitrate liquid fertiliser, are under development.
Now that energy-efficient LED lighting is widespread, specialist products with tailored spectral output are emerging. One supplier of such lighting, Unilight UK, claims that Danish studies on pigs recorded growth increase of 3–5%, or about a week, under LED lighting. In addition, sow lactation improves, piglets grow quicker, and weaning weight increases.
Data is commonly used to benchmark farm operations and often energy consumption as well. When looking to improve energy efficiency, this data should not be limited to the obvious areas such as energy consumption, temperature, on/off times, etc. To get the best value from data, it should be gathered and reported against all sensible metrics, such as feed requirements, fertility, weight gains, mortality, etc. By doing so, the full impacts of the changes that are made can be assessed and the right decisions made to gain maximum efficiencies in all aspects of production, together with using predictive analytics.
To find out more about the successes of GrowSave so far, visit the AHDB website: ahdb.org.uk/growsave.