RFP: A Systems Approach to Understanding the Nutrient Cycle Across the Pork Ecosystem

A comprehensive understanding of how nutrient (C, N, P, K, S, Zn, Cu, Mn) transfer — from pigs, to manure, to soil, to grain crops in turn used for pig feed — is necessary to determine where nutrient use efficiencies can be optimized.

This is a multifactorial issue requiring a multidisciplinary, coordinated research approach that spans multiple regions of the U.S. While some of the data has been collected and is available for various sectors of the cycle, there has never been a systems approach to better understanding the efficiency of nutrient transfer from one segment of the cycle to another.

The intent is to identify and fill the many gaps in knowledge that exist to complete our understanding of the cycle through a phased request for proposals (RFPs) broken up over a 3.5 year process.

Those awarded any phase of the research will be invited to participate in a Task Force with other researchers and producers in order to build upon knowledge gained along the way. It is expected that these efforts will be closely coordinated with the Real Pork Center of Excellence located at U.C. Davis to optimize communications efforts as well.

What Problem Does This RFP Address?

Since the advent of agriculture, farmers have realized the value of nutrients in livestock manure and recycled it as a natural fertilizer for crops. Grain from these crops is subsequently fed back to livestock, which produce important protein products for human consumption.

This nutrient cycle is environmentally sustainable, as it supplies many of the needed nutrients for human, animal and plant development. However, it may be possible to improve the efficiency of nutrient utilization at key points in the cycle.

With the recent publication of “Nutrient flows and associated environmental impacts in livestock supply chains: Guidelines for assessment” by the LEAP Partnership of the FAO, we are poised to comprehensively collect empirical data regarding specific nutrient utilization, loss, and conservation within pork’s circular ecosystem of manure -> soil -> feed crops -> pigs.

The data can then be used to improve nutrient-use models, develop strategies to enhance utilization and mitigate losses, modify the formulation of swine diets, refine sustainability reporting for continuous improvement and develop decision-making tools.

This information is essential to determine where improvements in nutrient use efficiency can be made so that the valuable contribution pork makes to the human diet can be better understood in the context of sustainable food production.

As a leader in this space, the National Pork Board plays a critical role in the support of and funding for research needed to collect this data in accordance with the Pork Act and Order. By partnering with other commodity organizations such as the National Corn Growers Association and the United Soybean Board, Checkoff dollars are leveraged to meet the necessary scope of the effort.

Criteria for Approval

The National Pork Board is soliciting proposals from investigators to fill gaps in knowledge that will enable a systems approach to understanding nutrient flow in pork’s ecosystem.

Individual investigators are encouraged to submit proposals that address a specific area(s) of need or research priority within the pork ecosystem. However, the goal is to have a coalition of investigators work cooperatively to take a systems approach to understand nutrient flow within pork’s ecosystem.

Proposals from individual investigators or a coalition of investigators across multiple disciplines, geographies and institutions will be accepted. The collaboration of multiple disciplines and institutions is highly encouraged.

Cross-disciplinary approaches that include animal science, agronomy, biological sciences, horticulture, soil science, agriculture and biological engineering, environmental science, ecology, mathematics, social sciences, economics, and other fields are highly encouraged.

The RFP has been divided into phases so that milestones can be established ensuring a consistent flow of deliverable outputs to stakeholders in the pork value chain. Investigators may choose to submit proposals on each phase or a single proposal representing multiple investigators encompassing all phases. Keep in mind that, by design, each phase builds upon the previous and the need for coordination and cooperation between investigators.

When submitting a proposal for the all-encompassing effort, budget components should be developed for each phase of the project so that they reflect the stated objectives. This can be most easily done by simply adding more columns with the heading “Phase I”, “Phase II”, etc. to the right on the budget sheet and writing a separate justification for each phase.

Output from the selected proposal(s) will be expected to make an immediate and sizeable impact on the swine industry’s ability to measure, benchmark and demonstrate improvement on environmental sustainability.

Research – Desired Outcome

The Program Grant is to be organized around a set of closely related projects focused on using a systems approach to understand nutrient use, transfer, and partitioning in pork’s ecosystem.

The selected members of the coalition need to contribute the following desired outcomes:

  • Phase 1a (completed by March 31, 2023):
    • GAP analysis:
      • Conduct a comprehensive analysis of information/knowledge needs in all sectors of pork’s ecosystem
      • Review current and historic research efforts of the National Pork Board and other commodity organizations for alignment and need
    • Business case:
      • Develop a business case that includes economic outcome for implementing currently available sustainability practices that will drive adoption of best practices
  • Phase 1b (initiated in 2022, complete by September 30, 2023):
    • Data:
      • Include U.S. ingredients in the GFLI database to establish global utilization
    • Multi-objective feed formulation:
      • Establish methodology for determining LCA for each dietary ingredient
  • Phase 2a (initiated in 2023, completed by December 31, 2023):
    • GAP analysis:
      • Conduct a comprehensive review of currently available technologies and best practices from all sectors and include a feasibility assessment of implementing these technologies and practices
    • Business case:
      • Develop robust tools for decision-making that are comprehensive of the entire system
    • Data:
      • Establish baseline data for nutrients (C, N, P, K, S, Zn, Cu, Mn) that is open access, interoperable and appropriate for use in modeling activities
      • Development of standardized data architecture so that data can be transformed, transcribed and translated as necessary
    • Multi-objective feed formulation software:
      • Develop ingredient-specific loading for LCAs for all potential ingredients in swine diets
  • Phase 2b: (initiated in 2023, completed by December 31, 2024):
    • GAP analysis:
      • Where need is determined, use to shape and inform research efforts of the coalition in subsequent phases
    • Business Case:
      • Build business cases for sustainability practices that emerge as deliverables from the work of the coalition
    • Data:
      • Strengthen existing database information by updating, adding to, or creating new databases to be used in a variety of modeling exercises
      • Create or adapt tools to mine existing databases
    • Multi-objective feed formulation software:
      • Include ingredient-specific LCAs in the most recent revision of the Nutrient Requirements of Swine. Make it free and open access with the stipulation of contributing data to a national database
  • Phase 3: (complete by December 31, 2025):
    • Business case:
      • Build business cases for sustainability practices that emerge as deliverables from the work of the coalition
      • Build upon existing tools and continue to develop robust tools for decision-making that are comprehensive of the entire system
    • Data:
      • Unify databases where possible so that databases “talk” to each other and duplication is reduced
      • Evaluate data transparency (sharing, accessibility) in each sector and potential solutions
    • Multi-objective feed formulation software
      • Develop or adapt existing feed formulation software to include ingredient-specific LCAs so that the resulting formulation meets nutrient needs, considers economic cost, and determines the environmental impact

Training – Desired Outcome

Another desired outcome of this effort is to create a cross-discipline training program for undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows as this is critical to the long-term success of sustainable pork production. The funding partners for this effort are interested in supporting the pipeline of subject matter experts in systems sustainability. Thus, the deliverable for this portion will be highly trained subject matter experts with skills and knowledge necessary to support pork and crop producers far into the future.

Training of students may take many forms and a comprehensive, robust training program should go beyond what is typical of the mentor-mentee relationship between faculty and graduate student. Having a clear plan for career development of these students will be critical to the success of the submitted proposal.

This may include but is not limited to:

  • Leverage the multidisciplinary nature of the coalition and research to provide graduate and undergraduate students with a “systems” view of sustainability
  • Activities designed to foster relationships between students working in this area
  • Opportunities for students to meaningfully interact with pork producers, row crop farmers and representatives from the allied industry
  • Development of on-farm work experience programs and internships for students

Due Date

Research proposals for this RFP were due October 4, 2022.

Proposals will be evaluated and selections will be completed by October 21, 2022.


The cumulative expertise of the collaborators, resource availability and scientific merit of the proposed research and clearly defined training plans will be the basis for evaluation.

Individual projects contained within the proposal must meet the same standards of scientific rigor and statistical validity as typical National Pork Board research grants.

A Task Force comprised of pork producers, row crop farmers, allied industry representatives and subject matter experts will evaluate each proposal for its approach to desired outcomes, application to and impact on the pork production industry.

Funding Amount

There is an upper limit of $1,000,000 for the entire project period of up to 4 years. 

Applicants should not interpret the maximum allowable amount as a suggestion to expand their anticipated budget to this level. Reasonable budgets that are necessary to achieve desired outcomes are in favor of the applicant.

Budgets that are not commensurate with proposed work or poorly justified will likely have a negative impact on the overall evaluation of the proposal. Indirect costs are not allowed; however, it is allowable to request salary and fringe benefit support.

Proposal Format Requirements

Submissions for this RFP should follow the National Pork Board’s standard instructions and format and requirements. Please ensure your proposal format includes all required information, specifically under the budget section.


Chris Hostetler, Ph.D.
Director of Animal Science
National Pork Board
[email protected]