Kornegay's research eases livestock impact
By Stewart MacInnis
Spectrum Volume 21 Issue 05 - September 24, 1998
When E.T. Kornegay was growing up in rural Duplin County, N.C., hogs were a small part of the county's character. What he learned about hogs in the 35 years since he earned his doctorate is coming to the aid of his home county, which now has more hogs in it than any other county in the nation.
Kornegay's research could profoundly influence his home county, and the environment of areas throughout the U.S. where intensive livestock farming is a growing trend. That influence helped earn him the American Society of Animal Science Morrison Award, the most prestigious award conferred by the pre-eminent international organization of animal scientists.
"I'm gratified not only that my work has been recognized by my fellow scientists, but more importantly, that it is having a positive influence on many communities, like Duplin County, where I grew up," Kornegay said.
With 2.2 million hogs, Duplin County has more hogs within its borders than most states. The economic boon the hog industry brings is tempered by environmental concerns raised by such a large concentration of animals. The county also is home to a major broiler and turkey industry. It is just the type of community where Kornegay's work will have the greatest impact.
The professor of animal and poultry science has developed nutrition-management regimes that result in massive reductions of phosphorus and other nutrients large confined-animal operations struggle to prevent releasing into the environment. His recommendations are being widely adopted among hog and poultry producers nationally.
The key to his work is the enzyme phytase, which is currently produced commercially mainly by a Dutch-based company. The enzyme makes more of the naturally occurring phosphorus in feeds available to animals. Phosphorus is an essential nutrient, which has routinely been added to animal feeds because the animals were not able to use enough of the naturally occurring phosphorus. Unused and bound phosphorus is excreted by the animals.
"Phytase is a miracle enzyme," Kornegay said. "Nothing touches it in terms of the magnitude of the response it produces."
Excess environmental phosphorus is suspected as a contributing factor in water-quality degradation and even in the bloom of Pfiesteria piscicida, which has caused fish kills in North Carolina and in tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland has mandated the use of enzymes to reduce the amount of phosphorus produced in large poultry operations--and phytase is the only enzyme available.
Kornegay's work has centered on how to get the most out of phytase. He has quantified the impact phytase has in helping animals use the natural phosphorus in feeds. Phosphorus added to feeds can be cut in half or even eliminated by farmers using Kornegay's recommendations. More of the phosphorus that naturally occurs in the feeds is used. The result is the amount of phosphorus released to the environment is cut by a one-third or even more. A small, but important, reduction in nitrogen release is also noted.
That makes large animal operations more compatible with surrounding communities. It also means producers spend less money on adding supplements to animal diets and less money on disposing of excess phosphorus. That makes their operations financially more competitive.
Through Kornegay's work, Tech has become a leader in the application of phytase in animal operations. The university is helping with product evaluations as several companies attempt to introduce their own phytase products. Kornegay is also sought after as a lecturer throughout the U.S., in Europe and in Asia.