Industry needs to “look sideways” for solutions to big issues
By Lilian Schaer for Livestock Research Innovation Corporation
There is no lack of big issues facing the livestock sector – ones that go beyond a single livestock species and can’t be tackled by any individual commodity association on its own. Climate change, antimicrobial resistance, the “animal-free” movement, and regenerative agriculture are just a few topics that fall into that category – and the solutions the industry needs could well be found outside of the sector.
That’s according to Brian Lindsay, Director for the Dairy Sustainability Framework and UK-based owner of a global consultancy focused on sustainable food systems.
“In agriculture, we are very good at talking to ourselves, but we need to widen the blinkers, take in what others are doing and listen to the experiences of other organizations and what they are doing,” he explains, adding that agriculture for example could learn from other sectors who are actively working to reduce plastic waste. “Could we work together on a common outcome? In the UK, we are recycling silage wrap into signs and benches – so what could we achieve by exploring and listening to others?”
Ultimately, a large part of dealing with disruptive forces is trying to change behaviours and encouraging the farm community to try new things. That means finding ways to help farmers have the confidence to try new things and reducing the risk associated with change.
“We’ve largely lost extension services and they are critical if we are going to make the difference we need to make,” Lindsay says. “Farmers are tangible people – they like to know somebody else has done it and survived. Changing to something new that they don’t know will work is scary.”
Former Ontario Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Dr. Deb Stark also encourages the livestock industry to look sideways to other sectors of the economy for solutions to the disruptors that lie ahead. She recently spoke on the topic at a Horizon Series webinar hosted by Livestock Research Innovation Corporation (LRIC).
“We can look at disruptors in two ways: those that are nature-based events, and those that are based in innovation or social change,” says Stark, currently a board member with the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute. “The world is so intertwined, so we need to look within the industry and to others for solutions.”
Disruptors that stem from technology or societal change, like cellular agriculture, advances in automation, or consumer pressure for more welfare-friendly production practices are complex, Stark notes, but those who don’t act risk finding themselves on the wrong side of the disruption.
“Technology and the attitudes towards it are changing and some of the most interesting things are happening beside us,” she says. “In livestock, for example, we are moving towards gathering data on each individual animal instead of the herd or flock and developing precision management, which is coming from human medicine beside us.”
Stark believes Ontario agriculture has a unique opportunity at its doorstep: the southern Ontario technology corridor, which includes the Waterloo Technology Triangle, Toronto Region Human Health & Sciences, and Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster.
“More could be done to build those relationships. We often look to what the Guelph (agriculture) grads are doing, but what are the (University of) Waterloo grads doing, for example?” she said, adding that although foresighting to anticipate future scenarios takes time and resources, the industry should be more putting more emphasis on this.
LRIC has been leading the charge on behalf of the livestock industry to identify these emerging issues and disruptors, bring balanced perspectives to the discussion, and start to work collaboratively on the search for solutions rooted in research and innovation.
“These are all issues that are bigger than a single livestock commodity can handle on its own – both from the scope of the issues, as well as the fact that most organizations are busy worrying about the more immediate, but equally important ongoing issues that face their individual sectors,” says LRIC CEO Mike McMorris.
This article was originally published in the May 2022 issue of Canadian Poultry.