Reducing ammonia emissions with nutrition

When talking about pig production and the environment, greenhouse gases and ammonia are aften topics of discussion. Yet there is another reason to think about reducing ammonia, as inside the pig barn profitability is also at stake. Ammonia levels can be reduced by providing the right nutrition.



lobally, humanity is at a tipping point with the en- vironmental changes happening to the planet. If action is not taken now, it could cause irreversible damage. As it stands, animal farming accounts for

almost 15% of human-derived emissions. That is a figure that will only rise as demand for animal protein continues to grow. By 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach 9.7 bil- lion, but our consumption of animal protein will rise by 70% in the same period. Even if humans continued as usual, pro- ducing the same amount using current methods of produc- tion while other industries improve their emissions offset, an- imal agriculture would consume 81% of humanity’s total emissions budget. That is clearly unsustainable.

Increasing affluence While in some parts of the world meat is over-consumed, these increases are largely driven by increasing affluence in areas where diets are currently too low in protein. To feed the entire population a healthy, balanced diet, we need animal protein. What must change is how it is produced, which will in turn support a lower emissions profile. Swine farming does not typically attract the same level of criticism for its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions profile as beef and dairy. It is true that in terms of GHGs like methane, swine agriculture does not contribute as much; however, pigs do still generate significant amounts of other gases. Even more significant, though, is the production of ammonia (NH3

), a colourless gas that can either occur naturally or be

manufactured. The main source of ammonia pollution global- ly is agriculture, where it is released from crop nitrogen fertil- isers and manure. There are several international initiatives

36 ▶ PIG PROGRESS | Volume 37, No. 7, 2021

currently underway to reduce ammonia emissions – for ex- ample, Denmark committed to reduce these emissions by 24% in 2020. But those commitments are not yet as strong as those related to other emissions, for instance in the Paris Agreement. Higher pressure to reduce ammonia as its impact becomes better known to consumers is almost certain in the near future. When ammonia enters the environment, it is deposited in nearby terrestrial and aquatic environments. This causes eu- trophication, acidification, reduction in plant biodiversity, dis- ruption of the nitrogen cycle and formation of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) which can cause health problems for animals and people alike.

Harming profitability In addition, ammonia harms farm profitability. When the level of ammonia in a pig’s system exceeds 20 ppm the pigs become stressed and lethargic, leading to poor performance and therefore reduced profit for farmers. Ammonia and am- monium-N (NH4

) contained in manure also act as inhibitors

in anaerobic digestion systems, reducing the efficiency of bio-digestors. Even if ammonia is an essential compound for bacterial growth, it inhibits the production of methane during the anaerobic digestion process if it is available in high concentrations. Those negative effects can increase in severity over time and lead to deadly illnesses. Levels higher than 7 ppm have been associated with health problems in humans, and elevated levels of ammonia concentrated with- in the barns may have detrimental effects on workers. It’s therefore no surprise that high ammonia levels are bad news for farmers and consumers alike, as ammonia is a major contributing factor when determining the air quality. Those issues have been emerging as topics of concern in the EU for some time. In the Netherlands, for instance, livestock farms are only allowed to emit a limited amount of ammonia (National Emission Ceiling Directive). According to the EU In- dustrial Emissions Directive, intensive livestock installations are subject to an environmental permit. Existing farms are also obliged to show improvements in reducing ammonia emissions because they know if no action is taken to tackle these issues now, the toll that animal farming takes on the planet will become too great for our natural resources to withstand.


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