August 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 4 // Research in Brief // 4RIB4

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Assessing Producer Awareness of the Impact of Swine Production on the Environment

Pork producer's were surveyed about their knowledge of waste production and management to help better focus future Extension educational programs. Results suggest that many producers are not concerned with swine waste as an environmental issue. However, younger producers, who have a better educational background, tend to realize the importance of waste management and adopt management practices to reduce swine waste. Tiered Extension education programs may be a means of delivering information about the importance of waste management to swine producers.

Brian T. Richert
Graduate Extension Assistant

Mike D. Tokach
Extension Specialist
Livestock Production and Management

Robert D. Goodband
Extension Specialist
Internet address:

Jim L. Nelssen
Extension Specialist

Kansas State University
Manhattan, Kansas


The public is becoming increasingly aware of the impact of animal agriculture on the environment. Waste management and its relationship to livestock production has been singled out, along with areas such as food safety and animal welfare as one of three critical focuses for Extension educational programs (Staff, 1993). As part of a long-term program to evaluate animal agriculture's impact on the environment, a survey was developed to determine producers' current production practices and knowledge pertaining to waste management. The objective was to evaluate pork producer's general knowledge regarding waste production and management to help better focus future Extension educational programs.

Materials and Methods

A 60-item questionnaire was sent to 650 Kansas pork producers with 279 questionnaires returned. The random sample was drawn from the Kansas State (KS) University Swine Update Newsletter mailing list. Based on demographics collected on hog inventories and type of operations, compared with KS Department of Agriculture statistics, returned surveys were considered to be representative of Kansas pork producers.

By using cluster analysis, producers were categorized into three outcome (knowledge) groups (top, average, and bottom one-third) according to their answers to seven questions related to swine waste production, current environmental issues, and general knowledge of the swine industry (e.g., What are synthetic amino acids used for?). This score was related to other questions to determine associations between knowledge group, production techniques, and industry concerns by use of Chi-square analysis and Cochran-Mantel-Haenszel association tests.

Of the producers responding, 35.1% marketed 1,000 or fewer pigs/year, 42.3% marketed 1,000 to 5,000 pigs/year, and 22.6% marketed more than 5,000 pigs/year. Producers in the top one-third knowledge group marketed more pigs per year (p<.03) than producers in the bottom one-third. Most producers had farrow to finish operations (75.5%), with 32.7% using all environmentally regulated facilities. Only 8.0% of the state's pork producers were using all outdoor facilities. The remaining producers were using a combination of the two. The majority (61.2%) of producers were between the ages of 31 and 50, and 95% completed high school. Over two-fifths (42.3%) of producers had a four-year college degree. Of the remaining producers, 18.7% had a vocational degree or at least two years of college education. Producers in the top one-third knowledge group were younger (p<.05) and were more likely to have completed four years of college (p<.005) than producers in the lower one-third knowledge group.

Waste Management

The use of a lagoon was the most popular form of animal waste storage for 38.8% of the producers responding to the survey. Approximately one-fourth (25.2%) of the swine producers used natural drainage (diversion terraces) or dirt lots in waste management, and 18.3% used pit storage for animal waste. The remaining 17.7% used a storage tank (4%) or a combination of these four storage methods. More producers in the top one-third knowledge group used a lagoon for manure storage than a diversion terrace (p<.07), when compared with the bottom one-third knowledge group. However, this appears to be because of the association between producer knowledge and size, i.e., large- scale producers use more lagoon and pit storage than small-scale producers, who use more diversion terraces (p<.001).

Only 10% of the producers who responded used injection of manure as the primary method of waste disposal, whereas, 33.7% used surface spreading. Another 15.4% used the lagoon oxidation-breakdown system, with 16.1% of the producers using dirt lots. The remaining 24.8% used a combination of these disposal methods or diversion terraces. Over one-fifth (21.9%) of the producers felt that manure has no economic value as fertilizer.

When asked how much swine waste one pig will generate by the time it is marketed at 250 lb., many producers (73.7%) were uncertain, whereas almost one-fifth (19.1%) answered the question correctly at 1.5 tons. The top one-third knowledge group had a greater percentage (p<.004) that knew the amount of waste generated by one pig raised to market than the bottom one-third (29.7 vs. 10.1%, respectively).


As environmental regulations require livestock producers to improve their waste management, it is essential to understand the producer's knowledge of the potential environmental hazard their swine waste may pose. Less than one-half (45.6%) of the pork producers believed that the nitrate in swine waste is an environmental concern, and even fewer (27.0%) were concerned about phosphorus. This lack of concern is supported by 84.7% of the producers indicating they had not tested the composition of their swine waste. However, 10.6% of producers tested animal waste for nitrogen and phosphorus to achieve correct land application rates.

Copper is another mineral with potential environmental problems. Over one-half of the (58.7%) producers expressed an environmental concern about copper. Interestingly, this is a higher percentage than was concerned about nitrate or phosphorus. Over one-half of the producers correctly identified copper sulfate's primary use and function as a growth promotant in starter pig diets. Surprisingly, 32.4% of the producers reported that they don't use copper sulfate at all, and another 16.4% were not certain if it was in their diets or not. Almost one-third (31.3%) of the producers used high levels of copper sulfate only in their nursery diets, whereas the remaining 19.9% used high levels of copper sulfate in some combination of nursery, grower, finisher, and sow diets.

Nutrition and Management

One area of emphasis at Kansas State University over the past 10 years has been grinding swine diets to the proper particle size to improve nutrient digestibility and decrease nutrient waste. Almost one-half (44.5%) of the producers correctly identified the optimal particle size for swine performance at 700 microns; however, 56.8% of Kansas pork producers have never submitted a diet sample for particle size testing.

Over one-half (52.4%) of the feeders used by producers were less than five years old, and another one-third were between five and 10 years old. Most producers (65.3%) identified a feeder as properly adjusted when the pan is one-fourth to one-half covered. This feeder adjustment was checked once a day by 15.3% of the producers, once a week by 42.1%, and once a month by 22.6% of the producers. Most producers (64.7%) correctly answered that when feed is observed on the ground outside the feeder, 10% or more feed wastage is occurring, but another 22.9% felt it was closer to 5% feed wastage.

Most producers (79.0%) add antibiotics to their pigs' diets for disease control or improved growth. A small percentage (6.5%) of the producers were trying enzymes to enhance nutrient digestibility of their diets, despite the predominance of scientific research showing little if any benefit observed in nutrient digestibility by adding such products. A small portion of producers (14.3%) correctly identified the function of the enzyme, phytase. Although currently not approved for use in commercial swine diets in the United States, it has been shown to increase phytate phosphorus digestion and, thereby, reduce phosphorus content in swine waste. A small percentage (8.4%) of producers were incorporating pit additives into their manure storage.


The popular press was by far the largest single contributor to producer information regarding all aspects of swine production, with 21.5% of the producers claiming magazines as their primary source of information. Extension personnel, feed companies, and veterinarians shared similar percentages (11.3, 12.1, and 10.6%, respectively) as the respondents primary sources of information. Professional consultants made up another 7.9% of the primary information sources. The remaining 36.6% said that some combination of these sources shared equally in providing information.

Conclusions and Implications

The results of this survey indicate that many producers are not concerned with swine waste as an environmental issue. However, younger producers, who have a greater educational background, tend to realize the impact of their operations on the environment and adopt nutritional and management practices that help to minimize swine waste production. Implications of these results might suggest a tiered approach to Extension educational programming. The objective of the first tier of educational programs might be to inform pork producers that waste management is an important environmental concern. This might include basic and general information on subjects such as local and state regulations for waste storage, amounts and composition of waste produced, and effects of different storage and application methods on fertilizer value. The second educational tier would be for the more informed producer, emphasizing the impact of nutritional or management practices on amount and composition of swine waste. The objective of the second tier of programming would be to implement technology to reduce swine waste production.

In conclusion, understanding current producer practices in herd management help improve the direction and focus of producer educational meetings. This survey indicates some important areas that the pork industry needs to address in response to issues involving swine production and the environment. While this survey did not include other livestock commodities, extrapolation of these results to other livestock producers may not be unreasonable.


Staff. (1993). Linking science and technology to societal benefits: Research priorities for competitive and sustainable food production from animals. Champaign, IL: Federation of American Societies of Food Animal Science & Forum for Animal Agriculture.