Fly larvae, duckweed and soy grown in Europe could offer pig farmers sustainable alternatives to importing soybeans from South America, according to a leading livestock business advisor.
Wilbert Hilkens of Dutch bank group ABN Amro said ‘clever investment’ into plant breeding and innovative protein sources such as insects was needed to provide farmers with alternative, more sustainable feeds.
Writing on ThePigSite.com, Hilkens said just 3% of Europe’s farmland is used to grow soybeans and other legumes that are used for protein in animal feed.
Instead, the majority of protein is sourced from South American soy. However, as much of that supply does not meet Round Table for Responsible Soy Principles — international rules that encourage soy production that does not harm the environment or people — more sustainable protein sources are needed.
Looking at alternative protein sources for European farmers, Hilkens said there were four areas the industry needs to consider. These include increasing the protein content of existing feed crops and improving how protein is extracted from crops, such as sunflower seeds, rapeseed, wheat and corn.
European farmers could also grow more soy, peas, beans, lupins and grass and consider cultivating alternative protein sources, such as duckweed, algae, seaweed and insects.
Small changes, big impacts
Hilkens said many of the alternatives required small changes in the industry, but had the potential to make a significant impact. For example, protein content of wheat is currently 9%, but experts had indicated that an increase of up to 3% was possible through breeding.
Similarly, pigs’ sensitivity to sunflower and rapeseed meal, which contain substances affect the digestive tract, means that a only a small proportion of it is used in the livestock industry. But with simple adjustments, such as the addition of enzymes, more of the protein-rich meal could be added to animal feed, he said.
Hilkens also suggested alternative protein sources such as insects could provide large-scale feed solutions in as little as two to five years.
“In the not too distant future insects seem to be very interesting for use in animal feed,” he said.
“The main focus is on fly larvae and mealworms. At present, legislation is still a significant limitation, [and] the question whether insects are to be seen as farm animals must be answered.”
Clever investment in breeding in innovation
While there are potential alternatives available, Hilkens said they could not entirely replace South American soy imports in immediate future. A combination of soy and alternative protein sources may be the best solution, he said.
“Over the past few years a part of the soy import from South America has already been replaced. A mixture of alternatives has been used for this purpose,” he said.
“By cleverly investing in breeding and innovation, we can expand the range that we can use to replace an increasing share of the South American soybean imports.”