The University of Leeds has opened its new £11 million National Pig Centre, which is says will be one of the most advanced pig industry research facilities in Europe.

The initiative is a partnership with the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL), which has contributed £4.5m funding through the UK innovation agency Innovate UK. It has also benefited from a generous donation from University of Leeds alumnus Nigel Bertram, a Norfolk farmer and former Monsanto executive.

The capacity of the previous University pig unit has been increased from 200 to 660 sows to ensure it better represents commercial scale. The unit includes a 220 sow outdoor enterprise to enable direct comparison of the different rearing systems.

“This new centre allows us to expand our work to improve the welfare of pigs and the sustainability of the British pig industry,” notes Professor Lisa Collins, head of the University’s School of Biology and academic lead for the PigSustain project. “Our aim is to lower the environmental footprint of pig farming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, whilst ensuring that high welfare standards are maintained.”

She adds that the National Pig Centre will focus of researching pig nutrition, behaviour, health (to include antimicrobial resistance) – and production systems – all themes identified by the livestock industry as central to improving productivity, meat quality and future competitiveness. It will draw on a range of academic expertise including nutrition, health, and fertility, as well as computer vision, engineering, soil and water sciences, data analytics, and atmospheric and climate science.

The indoor unit has equipment for in-depth, automated nutrition trials to understand how best to feed and manage pigs at all stages of production. Precision nutrition, based on individual requirements, can reduce the cost of production, improve feed efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of pig farming. It aims to make feed recommendations which keep pace with ongoing genetic improvement.

Prof Collins says the centre will become a key national resource for industry to work in partnership with the University to develop innovative and practical solutions for the economy, environment and society. It will also help deliver the goals of the Global Food and Environment Institute (GFEI) in feeding the world whilst protecting natural resources.