Looking sideways can help livestock industry embrace disruptors
Southern Ontario’s technology corridor could offer unique solutions
By Lilian Schaer for Livestock Research Innovation Corporation
There are two categories of disruptors facing the livestock sector, and the industry is encouraged to look outside of itself for solutions that will help it be on the right side of coming change.
That was the focus of the latest Horizon Series webinar hosted by Livestock Research Innovation Corporation (LRIC), which featured former Ontario Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Dr. Deb Stark as the guest expert.
“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, and the big disruptors come and hit you sideways, so we need to look within the industry and to others for solutions.”
Nature-based disruptors include animal or human diseases, like African Swine Fever or the COVID-19 pandemic, droughts, fire, floods, and extreme weather events like blizzards, tornadoes, or hurricanes.
Response to these types of threats includes prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. The industry is no stranger to dealing with disease threats; recent examples in the pork industry include Porcine Reproductive Respiratory Syndrome virus (PRRSv), Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) or preparing for a foreign animal disease outbreak.
Responding to disruptors that stem from technology or societal change, like cellular agriculture, advances in automation, or consumer pressure for more welfare-friendly production practices is more complex. There is less need for immediate and collective action, Stark notes, and yet 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.”
Disruptors don’t usually come out of the blue; there are always early signs that change is afoot. Stark herself likes to look to the World Economic Forum’s annual risk report, futurist.com and the Betakit newsletter focused on Canadian start-up investments to identify emerging trends with potential for industry impact.
On her current watch list are:
- Disease preparedness. Three quarters of new infectious diseases come from animals, so it’s important to look at what could happen if livestock, poultry, and humans are simultaneously at risk.
- Water governance. As the world gets hotter and drier, water is becoming increasingly important.
- Bioengineering and cellular agriculture. The ability for anyone to change, and even create genetic code could have far-reaching consequences.
When it comes to looking sideways, 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? It could be beneficial to look more to those areas,” 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.
That includes its Horizon Series of white papers and webinars featuring guest experts, like Stark, to provide background on issues ranging from regenerative agriculture and water use to antimicrobial resistance, genomics and animal-free meat, dairy, and eggs.
Also helping LRIC keep its eye on the horizon are its Emerging Issues and International Advisory committees, whose members bring national and global perspectives to the table.
“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.
Ultimately, Stark believes that disruption isn’t good or bad, it just means different – but how people interpret it depends on the impact they’re experiencing.
“If you’re having to change how you run your business, that is disruption, but if you’ve found a new business opportunity, it’s innovation,” she says. “There will be winners and losers and the ones that figure it out and grab it will win.”
LRIC’s Horizon Series webinars and white papers are available here.
This article was originally published in Ontario Hog Farmer, April - May 2022 edition.