It is a challenge for the global animal feed industry to be able to feed the world’s population with high-quality food even in 2050. This is according to Schothorst Foderforskning (SFR). Experts from the research institute in Lelystad wrote this vision:
On 23 March 2022 at the 64th Intercoop Animal Feed Congress in Salzburg, Austria. One of the speakers was Professor Wilhelm Windisch, Chair of Animal Nutrition at the Technical University of Munich. He gave a presentation entitled: ‘Challenges for compound feed producers in ‘sustainable’ livestock farming – What measures should be taken in the short, medium and long term?’. SFR explains how we can contribute to finding solutions to these challenges for the feed industry.
Feeding the world in 2050
Professor Windisch explains that by 2050 the world population will increase by 30 percent, food consumption will double, the necessary animal feed production will double, but the available agricultural area per person will decrease by 30 percent. This will lead to increased competition between human food and animal food. It will also have major consequences for the climate crisis.
Within production on agricultural land, a distinction is made between edible and non-edible biomass, whereby edible biomass can be consumed by humans (e.g. grains) and non-edible biomass cannot. Vegetable agricultural products consist mainly of non-edible biomass, such as straw, clover, alfalfa and grass. In general, 1 kg of vegetable agricultural product contains at least 4 kg of non-edible biomass. The speaker argues that livestock is an indispensable element in the agricultural bioeconomy, which transforms inedible biomass into high-quality food. He also states that a large part of the plant nutrients end up in the agricultural material cycle via farm manure.
Competition between food and feed
The competition between food and feed is particularly relevant for poultry because it allows for high efficiency of biomass conversion into high-quality feed proteins, accompanied by lower resource consumption (soil, water) and lower environmental emissions than for ruminants (e.g. cattle, sheep).
However, due to the increasing scarcity of agricultural land, this type of food competition between humans and livestock should decrease in the future. That while ruminants, thanks to their ability to use non-edible biomass, will gain more importance despite higher environmentally relevant emissions. In this respect, pig production lies between poultry and ruminants. Provided that only the non-edible biomass that is already available is fed, this will not have any negative consequences for the consumption of land, water and other resources, according to the speaker.
Challenges for the feed industry
To minimize the disadvantages in terms of conversion efficiency and emissions, greater emphasis should be placed on the nutritional value of the non-edible agricultural biomass. Measures vary from supplementing limiting nutrients (eg amino acids) and removing anti-nutritional components to improving the digestibility of the non-edible components of crops through breeding or genetic engineering. This entails the following challenges for the feed industry:
- Increased restriction of the availability of high-nutrient forages such as grain, corn and soybeans, which is particularly relevant for pig and poultry production
- Falling back on regional feed resources, which can lead to scarcity and greater variation in the nutritional value of the available feed resources.
- Increased pressure to reduce footprint (CO2, methane, N, water, soil) and food competition.
How can the feed industry cope with these challenges?
Professor Windisch suggests different ways to meet these challenges: First, a thorough analysis of the nutrient content of (new) animal feed or by-products is required. Second, the nutritional value of raw materials and by-products must be maximized, e.g. through processing and additives (enzymes). Thirdly, there must be good cooperation between agriculture and the feed and food industry within the circular economy. Fourth, there must be a good understanding and reporting of footprints. Finally, there must be a good understanding of the competition between food and feed, which must be optimised.