Long-term challenges for the feed industry to feed the world population

On 23 March 2022, SFR attended the 64th Intercoop Animal Feed Congress in Salzburg, Austria. One of the speakers was Professor Wilhelm Windisch, Chair of Animal Nutrition, Technical University of Munich. He gave a presentation entitled: “Challenges faced by compound feed producers in ‘sustainable’ livestock production – Which short, medium, and long-term measures need to be implemented?” The current newsletter provides a summary of this presentation, as well as information from the speaker’s recent publications. Moreover, it will be explained how SFR can contribute to find solutions to these challenges for the feed industry.

Feed the world by 2050

Professor Windisch explains that by 2050, the global population will increase by 30%, food consumption will double, livestock production will double, the required livestock feed production will double, but the available agricultural area per person will be reduced by 30%. This will lead to intensification of the competition between human food and livestock nutrition. Moreover, this will heavily impact the climate crisis. Within the production on agricultural area, edible and non-edible biomass are distinguished in which edible biomass can be consumed by humans (e.g., cereals) and non-edible biomass cannot. Agricultural vegetable productions consist mainly of non-edible biomass, like straw, clover, alfalfa and grass. In general, 1 kg of vegetable agricultural product entails at least 4 kg of non-edible biomass. The speaker states that livestock is an indispensable element of the agricultural bioeconomy, transforming non-edible biomass into high-quality food. Moreover, he states that a large proportion of the plant nutrients are returned to the agricultural material cycle via farmyard manure.

Competition between food and feed

The food-feed competition is especially relevant in the case of poultry because it enables a high efficiency of transformation of biomass into high-quality food protein, and it is coupled with a lower consumption of resources (land, water) and fewer environmentally relevant emissions than in the case of ruminants (e.g., cattle, sheep). However, due to the increasing scarcity of agricultural land, this form of food competition between humans and livestock will have to decline in the future, while ruminants, thanks to their ability to utilise non-edible biomass, will gain in importance despite higher environmentally relevant emissions. In this respect, pig production is intermediate between poultry and ruminants. Provided that only the non-edible biomass that is available anyway is fed, this does not have a detrimental effect on the consumption of land, water and other resources according to the speaker.

Challenges for the feed industry

To minimise the disadvantages in terms of transformation efficiency and emissions, more attention must be paid in particular to the feed value of the non-edible agricultural biomass. Measures range from the supplementation of limiting nutrients (e.g., amino acids) and the elimination of anti-nutritive ingredients to the improvement of the digestibility of the non-edible components of crops through breeding or genetic engineering. More specifically, this implies the following challenges for the feed industry:

  • Rising limitation of the availability of commodity feeds with a high nutrient density like cereals, corn and soy-bean, which is especially relevant for pig and poultry production
  • Fall-back to regional feed materials that may lead to scarcity and more variation in feeding value of the available feedstuffs.
  • Increasing pressure to reduce footprints (CO2, methane, N, water, land) and food competition

How can the feed industry face those challenges?

Professor Windisch proposes several ways to face those challenges: first, a profound analysis of the nutrient content of (new) feedstuffs or by-products is needed. Second, the nutritional feeding value of raw materials and by-products needs to be maximised, e.g., by processing and additives (enzymes). Third, within the circular economy, there should be a good cooperation between the agriculture and the feed and food industries. Fourth, there should be a good insight in and declaration of footprints. Finally, there should be a good insight into the food-feed competition, which should be optimised.

How can SFR contribute to the solutions?

Schothorst Feed Research can contribute largely to most of the proposed solutions. SFR conducts in-vivo and in vitro digestibility experiments in pigs, poultry, and ruminants. By doing this, the feeding value of (new) feedstuffs and by-products can be assessed more precisely regarding protein, energy, and minerals. SFR regularly tests the effect of additives like enzymes on increasing the feeding value of raw materials for pigs, poultry, and ruminants. SFR investigates the effects of technological pre-treatment and processing of raw materials on feeding value. This way, nutrients like glucose, amino acids and minerals are more readily available for the animals. This can reduce the amount of anti-nutritional factors (ANFs) in the feed. In feeding trials, SFR can assess maximum or optimal inclusion levels of new raw materials and by-products in the feed of pigs, poultry, and ruminants. SFR can measure the individual feed intake and weight development of group housed pigs, which helps to build precision feeding programmes. Finally, SFR builds sustainability features (LCA, carbon footprint, N-emissions) into its feedstuff matrix and linear programming system, enabling feed producers to take this into account in their feed formulation. As such, SFR can help the feed industry to solve the huge challenges they are facing.

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