Organic Swine Planning Project at the WCROC
By Yuzhi Li, Associate Professor of Swine Behavior and Welfare
In September of 2017, the Alternative Swine Research Group was awarded a competitive grant by the USDA’s Organic Research and Extension Initiatives for an ‘Organic Swine Production - Planning Project’. The goal of the project is to establish a research and extension program at the WCROC.
Specifically, through the project we identify key issues in organic swine production that can be addressed in future research. Meanwhile, we seek collaborations with scientists and farmers to tackle problems in organic swine production. Furthermore, we explore the alternative swine facility at the WCROC for organic swine research and production. The grant period is one year.
To embrace the wide spectrum of challenges for organic pig production, an Organic Swine Planning Committee has been formed to conduct the project. The committee consists of scientists from multiple disciplines, including swine scientists (Yuzhi Li, and Lee Johnston - WCROC), an organic dairy scientist (Brad Heins – WCROC), an extension educator (Wayne Martin – Small farms and alternative livestock production); an agricultural economist (William Lazarus – Dept. of Applied Economics), a meat scientist (Ryan Cox – Dept. of Animal Science), a soil scientist of organic production (Paulo Pagliari - SWROC), and an environmental scientist (Joel Tallaksen - WCROC).
Since the commencement of the project, the committee has been busy collecting information of organic swine production through organizing seminars and focus group meetings, visiting organic pig farms, and conducting online survey. To reach organic pig farmers across the Midwestern region, the committee has organized seminars and focus group meetings at the MN Organic Conference in St. Cloud, MN, at the MOSES Conference in La Crosse, WI, and at the UMN Extension Office in Rochester MN, respectively. In addition, the committee has visited The Callens Organic Pig Farm in Minneota, MN, and the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, PA.
Through farm visits and discussions with organic farmers at the focus group meetings and the seminars, the committee has identified many issues and challenges in organic swine production, including animal health issues (parasites and scours), high production costs (feed, bedding, initial investment, and investment return), inadequate resources (organic protein sources and organic feed mills), limited access to organic certified meat plants and markets, and the lack of standardized nutritional and vaccination programs for organic pigs. All these issues should be addressed to sustain and increase organic pig production in the country. Currently, there are no research programs at land-grant universities to support organic swine production.
The University of Minnesota would be the first to conduct research to solve these problems for organic pig farmers when an organic swine research program is established.
For more information about the project, please contact Yuzhi Li at the WCROC.