Organic Swine Research at the WCROC
Reducing Feed Cost by Utilizing Camelina Cover Crops
By Yuzhi Li, Associate Professor of Swine Behavior and Welfare
In contrast to the dramatic increase in other sectors of organic agricultural production, the number of organic pigs produced in the U.S. each year remains negligible. A major challenge in organic pork production is the high cost of organic feed, which accounts for 75% of total production costs. One alternative protein and energy source for organic pigs in the Midwest is camelina meal (by-product of camelina oil). Winter Camelina is a cover crop, which requires minimal water and fertilizer, inhibits summer weeds, and can sequester almost all available soil nitrate in autumn, winter, and spring. Integration of camelina into organic swine production may protect the environment, increase total yield of the land, and reduce feed cost by utilization of camelina meal for organic pig production. However, camelina meal as an alternative feed ingredient to partially replace soybean meal in diets for organic pigs has never been researched.
Currently, we are conducting a research project at the WCROC to evaluate the role that Winter Camelina cover crops may play in organic pig production through a system-approach. In this project, we first determine the optimal supplemental amount of camelina meal as a feed ingredient for growing-finishing pigs. Then we grow camelina on organically-certified land with a double-crop system and evaluate camelina’s impact on yield, cost, and return of the land. In addition, we assess effects of dietary camelina meal supplementation on growth performance and meat quality of pigs that are raised under near-organic conditions. Finally, we conduct economic analysis and life cycle assessment to compare two organic swine-cropping systems with and without camelina integration. We will disseminate results of this project to end-users through field days, workshops, seminars, online materials, and publications. The project will take three years to complete and is expected to be concluded in 2020. We believe that results of this project will help organic pig farmers reduce feed cost, increase total output of organic land, and protect the environment. Ultimately, we hope that this project will increase the number of pigs raised organically in the United States.
This project is supported by Organic Transition Program (Award# 2017-51106-27129) from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. To our knowledge, we are the first land-grant university to receive funds from USDA to conduct research projects in organic swine production. With supports from our stakeholders, we will continue to lead organic swine research in the nation.