Consumers want affordable food, yet at the same time want to know how it’s produced.
How to balance the economic ability to produce and at the same time meet consumer demands for traceability, reducing the carbon footprint and perceived animal comfort is a challenge.
Based on a panel discussion at the recent Governor’s Agriculture and Economic Development Summit in Kearney, Nebraska, that balance will rely heavily on agriculture innovations in the U.S. and from abroad.
Consumers are very interested in traceability – taking protein from farm to table, said Jeff Adams, who manages the poultry division of Big Dutchman, a global manufacturer of poultry and swine equipment headquartered in northern Germany. This is driving the adoption of practices such as NAE (no antibiotic ever).
Another challenge is meeting the requirements of California’s Proposition 12.
“California needs 45-million-layer hens to meet consumer demands, yet they only have about 12 million layers. This means they need to import eggs, but that also means those eggs must be raised cage-free to meet Proposition 12 requirements,” said Adams, who works out of Big Dutchman’s office in Holland, Michigan.
Fortunately, with the company’s European influence they have already adapted product lines to meet those requirements and have been able to meet the demand of producers willing to adapt to them, he said.
Lachlan Campbell, co-founder and CEO of ProAgni, an animal supplement firm dedicated to producing antibiotic free products, told how his big journey began last fall.
“Thomas Foods, the largest lamb packer in Australia, announced they were shifting to processing totally antibiotic and hormone free lamb,” he said.
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In Australia where the lamb industry is 80 million head strong and 80% of it is exported, including $1 billion annually to the U.S., the notice was seismic, he said. Their firm’s product, ProTect S, is antibiotic free and was already being sold across Australia. It helped answer the need of lamb producers there.
Campbell is now working with feedyards in Colorado and researchers at Cornell University to meet demands for antibiotic free beef in the U.S. using ProTect S.
A firm headquartered near Lincoln, Settje Agri-Services and Engineering, designs and builds livestock facilities and also helps producers with regulatory compliance. While their primary focus is on beef and dairy operations, Settje has been working with other livestock species as Nebraska agriculture diversifies. They are working with manure value-added technology, such as methane digesters and remote visual screening, to reduce the livestock industry’s carbon footprint.
Innovation and sustainability is the name of the game, said Zach Settje.
Finding reliable farm labor continues to be a challenge, but artificial intelligence (AI) applications help monitor animals for sickness and lameness.
“Good feedlot cowboys are becoming rarer every day,” Settje said. “AI can help take the burden off labor.”
He suspects animal ag AI will be a new trend, following about five years behind some European or Australian companies. Already, the dairy industry has invested in robotic milking and ventilated barns.
“The answer isn’t always in more people to do more things, rather more equipment,” Settje said.
U.S. producers need to pay attention what is happening overseas and learn from their European friends about animal welfare and environmental protections, according to Adams.
“It is a huge cost that will eventually be passed on to consumers,” he said.
As animal traceability and transparency becomes more important to consumers two pieces of technology are coming into play. The preferred method currently is an electronic e-tag carried from marking the animal to the point it leaves the farm or ranch to the processor. A bar code would further track the animal.
Facial recognition is also being touted as an option, but Settje said the dairy side doesn’t really need it, especially on Holsteins, because of their unique markings. With beef in the feedlots it is tough to tell the differences, especially with mud in the winter.