“In general, amino acids are added to animal diets based on low cost formulations.
However, we have seen that by increasing the inclusion rate of pure amino acids, the poultry and pig sector could see a reduction in the amount of crude protein used by 2 to 3% on average, along with a beneficial impact in terms of eutrophication and acidification,” said Piet van der Aar, R&D director at Schothorst Feed Research in the Netherlands.
He reckons the amino acid segment will grow substantially in the next decade “I think it will be a more competitive market in the future. If it is attractive enough, you will see more suppliers entering the amino acid market and they will regulate it, bringing prices lower,” said van der Aar.
As food security concerns highlight a need to find more sustainable sources of protein for use in animal diets, we spoke to the feed expert about the pros and cons of some of the candidates in the R&D pipeline.
“The animal feed industry is a global business, and international social developments will have a large influence on which feedstuffs will be used over the next 10 to 15 years. Livestock production globally is only going to increase in scale but trends such as the growing momentum behind the sustainability agenda in China will have a ripple effect.
Competition between food, feed and fuel will persist in terms of land usage - we look with interest to developments in the US in terms of how the bioethanol industry there plays out politically and impacts on corn usage.
And pressure on global grain stocks, despite intermittent oversupply over the past 14 years, will continue so the feed and livestock sector have to keep their eye on the ball in terms of making more with less,” said van der Aar.
He said any new protein sources need to have a predictable nutritional value at a low price and nutrient ratio and a low ecological foot print. “The energy to protein share is also critical,” said van der Aar.
Duckweed, seaweed, algae
Innovation in feed enzymes is also making alternative ingredients potentially more digestible, he says. Despite that, he reckons duckweed, which has generated a lot of interest as a new protein source, does not offer much promise - for poultry diets at least. “It has very low digestibility.”
Nor does he forecast a big future for seaweed as a viable fishmeal or soymeal replacer in pig or poultry diets due to the low energy value and poor digestibility of its protein content.
“It might have more benefits for ruminant nutrition as it is high in fiber but the drying process also renders seaweed environmentally unfriendly,” said the Schothorst based feed expert.
The productivity promise of microalgae, which are rich in protein, is high but he says there is still a knowledge gap around their amino acid profiles. “Moreover, their nucleic acid content could limit their use in feed and needs further inquiry,” said van der Aar.
He enthused about the possibilities of insect derived feed but noted the multiple insect sources with variability in nutritional value as a potential challenge.
“And production needs to be well controlled to mitigate safety risks,” he said.
He also questioned how economically viable insect meal production is due to the bioconversion of waste required, and reckons limitations on yields will ensure it remains a niche segment. "The most likely applications will be in young animal diets, pet food and aquaculture," said van der Aar.
For van der Aar, the optimization of existing feedstuffs is as critical as the focus on new ingredients.
“Wheat has nearly as much protein per hectare as soybeans, and yet, this factor is seldom taken into account during EU parliament level debates looking at ways to tackle Europe’s protein deficit and decrease its reliance on soy imports,” said the researcher.
And, having analyzed the ‘shadow’ value of EU derived protein crops such as pulses and rapeseed, he sees the European pig sector has having the most to gain from the integration of such inputs.
Knowledge transfer hindered
But van der Aar cautions on what he sees as a negative trend in terms of knowledge transfer on trials evaluating new feedstuffs.
“Increasingly, due to cutbacks in government funding in many European countries forcing the closure of animal health and nutrition focused institutes or farm extension services, we see private companies carrying out much of the applied science in terms of animal nutrition.
There is a lag time in terms of public dissemination on the trial work being done in this arena so data is becoming harder to access.
For example, I know of four or five studies being conducted by feed companies or research organizations under contract in the Netherlands that are evaluating the value of grass derived protein for pigs and poultry but none of the results, either interim or final, have been published.”
Poultry production models
For the global poultry sector, van der Aar envisages three production scenarios over the next decade and beyond.
The current low cost, maximum production model will continue to dominate globally and will need highly digestible feedstuffs and feed with a high nutrient density, he said.
In parallel with that, he said, will be the slow growing animal system, much like under the Label Rouge standard in France, and this model requires less digestible and fiber rich feedstuffs.
The third most likely production model would be one based on regional poultry production units, using EU protein sources, as well as locally grown and organic feedstuffs.
“In general, I expect that in all scenario’s the nutrient density will become lower, providing more space in the formulation for co-products and alternatives feedstuffs,” said van der Aar.