PEGaSus - Phosphorus efficiency in Gallus gallus and Sus scrofa: Bridging the gaps in the phosphorus value chain

Aim of the project:

Monogastrics such as pigs and chickens contribute to achieve global food security but are major P excretors and sources of P losses. Balancing the P cycle is crucial towards a P resilient livestock production. The strategic aim of this project is to provide solutions to secure sufficient supplies of high quality animal products from resource-efficient and economically competitive agro-systems that are valued by society and preserve soil and water ecosystems

Introduction

The competitiveness of European agri-food production relies on the efficient and sustainable use of resources. The essential element phosphorus (P) is a commercially finite resource and is not used efficiently in agriculture and our food and waste systems. The EU imports 90% of its mineral P which creates vulnerability to shocks in the global mineral P-supply chain and this could jeopardize EU food security. To improve the sustainability and efficiency of P-use, PEGaSus addresses P-efficiency in animals and plants, P-losses from manure management and the role of microorganisms in influencing P-availability and storage in soils. PeGaSus tackle these issues with an emphasis on monogastric species (pig and chicken) that are particularly inefficient in the digestion of plant derived P. PEGaSus comprises animal feeding trials designed to address the bioavailability, digestibility and efficiency of plant P and P-losses and emissions from pig and chicken husbandry targeting animal health, welfare and environmental benefits. Alternative technical, policy and governance strategies to minimize P-discharges from farms, P runoff from soil and subsequent enrichment in aquatic ecosystems will be developed.

What: The project delivers cost-benefit estimations in various farm-, production-, process-, and eco-systems, and novel approaches of P management/reuse to balance economic and environmental sustainability of the dense but uneven distributed European animal production.

Why: Phosphorus (P) is an irreplaceable component of life and used in all agricultural production systems. It is a finite but recycable resource which is not efficiently used and reused in agricultural production leading to serious concerns for soil and water ecosystems

Where: The research is been done in five academic centres in Germany, United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden and Italy. 

Main project activities:

The fate of P in fodder, animals, microbiota, slurry, soil and water will be traced. An improved understanding of the biodiversity of monogastric P utilisation towards both an optimised P supply and highest standards of animal health and welfare will be generated. The genotype-phenotype map, i.e. genomic, epigenetic, and transcriptomic variation, will be addressed. PEGaSus will develop feeding, breeding and management/reuse tools and strategies as well as science-based policy measures to improve the efficiency of P use in pig and chicken production.

Interim research findings:

In a joint manuscript strategies have been highlighted to increase bioavailability, digestibility & efficiency of plant P in mono-gastric animals, to reduce P losses and emissions from pig & chicken husbandry, and to minimize P runoff from soil and enrichment in aquatic systems.

The pigs and poultry used in the project have been comprehensively phenotyped for physiological effects, of phosphorus for example on bone structure. The PEGaSus partners also addressed the genomic variation in pigs. As nearly half of the variation in blood phosphorus levels in pigs is thought to be due to genetic factors. This provides opportunities to improve endogenous mechanisms of phosphorus utilization via breeding. A bio-economic model for the use of phosphorus on pig and poultry farms has been developed and calibrated. The model reveals the ways that a representative farmer maximizes profit from selling crops and animals under different technical and institutional constraints. It is used to examine the effect of potential government measures regarding phosphorus use, such as assessing and comparing economic as well as the environmental performance, such information can help farmers in their decision making process.

Putting phosphate rock on the EU list of critical elements has encouraged recycling and reuse of phosphate from waste sources so by-products from slaughter, wastewater and sludge are now increasingly processed back into phosphate. National regulations e.g. in the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and the Baltic Sea countries have put limits on the level of P overloading of farmland and the subsequent levels of P in runoff. For areas that have been farmed for many decades, legacy P will continue to produce high levels of P in runoff such that the Water Framework Directive goals will not easily be met. The general public and decision makers show steadily increasing interest in P-usage and its associated environmental aspects. This was triggered by debates in Germany about the maximum amount of liquid manure to be spread on fields. In fact, the consortium was consulted by a Federal Ministry of Germany to determine the P-balance in pigs, which illustrates the need for sound scientific knowledge and measurements in terms of P.

Project consortium:

Coordinated by: Dr. Prof. Klaus Wimmers - Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology (GERMANY)

  • DENMARK: Aarhus University
  • ITALY: Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
  • SWEDEN: Stockholm Environment Institute
  • UNITED KINGDOM: Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute