Aligning company values, navigating trade-offs in swine diet formulation

Tools like the Educational Swine Diet Formulator ensure feed producers, crop and pig farmers can make informed decisions, reduce risks.

February 8, 2024

5 Min Read
National Pork Board

By Christian Ramirez-Camba, Jinsu Hong and Pedro E. Urriola, Department of Animal Science, University of Minnesota

As the global population continues to grow, the demand for food production intensifies placing greater pressure on agricultural systems to feed the world without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Brundtland, 1987). The total carbon footprint of U.S. pork production increased between 1959 and 1999 but the intensity per unit of pork production decreased (Boyd and Cady, 2012). In this context, the pork industry seeks continuous improvements, particularly in areas such as climate change mitigation and land use.

Recognizing the imperative to address these challenges, researchers and practitioners in swine nutrition are exploring innovative approaches to optimize feeding programs while minimizing environmental impact. A recent study by (Yang et al., 2023) provides valuable insights into the trade-offs inherent in selecting dietary programs for swine, highlighting the need for informed decision-making. This article compares the findings of the study and explores practical tools, such as the Educational Swine Diet Formulation with Integrated Life Cycle Assessment, which challenges diet formulation professionals to study trade-off among choices of environmental footprints. Additionally, we provide examples of methods to navigate trade-off and align company and stakeholder desired outcomes.

Four dietary programs were evaluated, with two selected for illustration: a corn-soybean meal-based diet, and DDGS diet containing 30% corn distillers dried grains with solubles. If the sustainability goal of the diet formulation program aims to decrease the environmental impact in terms of climate change, water use or soil quality index; the corn-soy diet is preferred. However, for reducing acidification or terrestrial eutrophication, the DDGS diet is the better choice (Table 1).


The Livestock Sustainability group of the University of Minnesota developed a simplified open access tool that swine professionals, students and farmers can use to test evaluate swine feeding programs with different impact factors. The Educational Swine Diet Formulation with Integrated Life Cycle Assessment uses feed ingredient impact factors from a published database (Wilfart et al., 2016) along with linear formulation of common nutrient requirements (NRC, 2012). Users can compare two feeding programs using five simplified steps.

For example, the first step is in the tab panel “1. Swine Diet Formulator”, selecting “phase 7 diet 220 – 300 lb”. Step 2 is to select feed ingredients for a corn-soybean meal-based diet. Users can change inclusion levels and the price of feed ingredients in step 3 and change diet nutrient specifications in step 4. Subsequently, users can solve by selecting “Calculate”. The diet formulation shows three output sections: ingredient composition of the diet, price and nutrient specifications.

In the tab panel "2. LCA Calculator," users will find two diets with the same nutrient composition but different ingredient sources. Here, the user has the option to change feed ingredients and compare the environmental impact of these two scenarios. Testing several scenarios, it can be observed, for example, that a diet that has less impact on climate change may have a higher impact on land competition or phosphorus consumption variables.

The common appearance of trade-offs means that it is important to determine the environmental outcomes that companies and pork producers will implement. This is a process called “Materiality Assessment” (GRI, 2023). This process aids businesses to identify the highest impacts the company has on the economy, environment and people (pigs, people and planet) including the perspective from company employees and external stakeholders (Figure 1).

From an animal feed perspective, the iFEEDER program of the American Feed Industry Association roadmap suggests that companies start with the identification of objectives and goals of the sustainability roadmap. The importance of this step cannot be understated as it leads to clear alignment of environmental goals with company objectives. The iFEEDER toolkit allows individual companies using the framework to be customized to their organization’s vision, mission, values and culture, making it easier for all employees and suppliers to see how their roles contribute to building trust, reducing risks and creating value.


In conclusion, the journey towards sustainable swine nutrition involves navigating trade-offs and aligning environmental outcomes with company values. The integration of tools like the Educational Swine Diet Formulator and adherence to a structured roadmap, as suggested by iFEEDER, ensures that crop farmers, feed producers and pig farmers can align and make informed decisions, reduce risks and create value while contributing to a more sustainable future. Striking the right balance is key – not just in diets but in the overarching mission of sustainable farming.


Boyd, G., and R. Cady. 2012. REPORT : A 50-Year Comparison of the Carbon Footprint and Resource Use of the US Swine Herd : 1959 - 2009.

Brundtland, G. H. 1987. The Brundtland report: ‘Our common future.’ Accessed Feb. 8, 2024.

GRI. 2023. GRI 3: Material Topics 2021. Global Sustainability Standard Board. Accessed Feb. 8, 2024.

IFEEDER. Animal Food Industry Sustainability Toolkit. Accessed Feb. 8, 2024.

Wilfart, A., S. Espagnol, S. Dauguet, A. Tailleur, A. Gac, and F. Garcia-Launay. 2016. ECOALIM: A dataset of environmental impacts of feed ingredients used in French animal production. PLoS One. 11:1–17.

Yang, Z., P. E. Urriola, L. J. Johnston, and G. C. Shurson. 2023. A systems approach to evaluate nitrogen utilization efficiency and environmental impacts of swine growing-finishing feeding programs in U.S. pork production systems. J. Anim. Sci. 101:1–17. .

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