Life cycle assessment of high- and low-profitability commodity and deep-bedded niche swine production systems in the Upper Midwestern United States
We used ISO-compliant life cycle assessment to evaluate the comparative environmental performance of high- and low-profitability commodity and deep-bedded niche swine production systems in the Upper Midwestern United States. Specifically, we evaluated the contributions of feed production, in-barn energy use, manure management, and piglet production to farm-gate life cycle energy use, ecological footprint, and greenhouse gas (GHG) and eutrophying emissions per animal produced and per live-weight kg. We found that commodity systems generally outperform deep-bedded niche systems for these criteria, but that significant overlap occurs in the range of impacts characteristic of high- and low-profitability production between systems. Given the non-optimized status of current deep-bedded niche relative to commodity production, we suggest that optimizing niche systems through improvements in feed and sow herd efficiency holds significant environmental performance improvement potential. Drivers of impacts differed between commodity and deep-bedded niche systems. Feed production was the key consideration in both, but proportionally more important in niche production due to lower feed use efficiencies. Liquid manure management in commodity production strongly influenced GHG emissions, whereas solid manure management increased eutrophication potential due to outdoor storage in deep-bedded niche production. We further observe an interesting but highly imperfect relationship between economic and environmental performance measures, where profitability tracks well with resource (in particular, feed) throughput, but only indirectly with emissions intensity.
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