Planting a flag for livestock
By Mike McMorris, Livestock Research Innovation Corporation
There is a sound and powerful agreement in favour of livestock production, but it involves nuance and requires some thought. In today’s world, people default to simple and so we need to be strategic in our approach when presenting the case for livestock.
Planting a flag for livestock involves all livestock sectors coming together to make a statement – one of pride, purpose, and resolve. Pride in what you do as producers. Purpose in making it clear how your sectors are tackling challenges of today such as greenhouse gas emissions and antibiotic use. Resolve in the form of a commitment to continuous improvement, working across sectors and disciplines to innovate and improve the livestock sector.
The future holds terrific risk and great opportunities for livestock producers. We need to proactively position the livestock sector accordingly. There will be new competing products such as “milk” derived from yeast, “meat” derived from cellular agriculture, and even “leather” created from mycelium (mushrooms).
We will need to deal with the reality that livestock production does impact the environment. Climate change is something that we all must take very seriously at this point both to lessen impact but also to adapt to. Concerns continue around disease, antimicrobial resistance and zoonoses (disease jumping from livestock to humans).
There is also a call for regenerative production, a focus on soil health and an increase in soil organic carbon, all of which could put livestock in a very positive light. And there are new technologies and innovations coming available (think genomics, automation, effective capture and use of data) that can help the livestock sector meet the risks and seize the opportunities.
How can planting a flag help?
It makes a collective statement of resolve to be here and to be better into the future. All of livestock, making such a resolution together, carries far more weight that any individual sector(s) alone. LRIC has been working toward a Livestock Declaration for some time now and hopefully soon, all livestock organizations, as well as other committed parties (upstream and down from production) plus academia and, ideally government, will sign on.
Simply put, the Declaration states that “The livestock industry is a key pillar of Ontario’s economy, environment, and food security. All parties agree to work together to innovate and grow the sector in a trusted and sustainable manner that supports an available, authentic and accountable food supply.”
What comes after planting the flag should include the development of a balanced scorecard for livestock. Balance is all but non-existent in the discussion of livestock and so we need to take the bull by the horns so to speak and create a scorecard. That will include GHG emissions per unit of balanced nutrition produced (considering not just calories or protein but micronutrients and vitamins as well); use of antimicrobials, effect on soil health and carbon capture, impact on biodiversity – and the list goes on.
Next, there would need to be a commitment to improve and report on the report card in the coming years. That is likely to take increased investment into research and innovation, as well as finding better ways of getting research into practice on farms. There is a real opportunity to bring a more cross sector (e.g. beef, dairy, pork) and cross discipline (health, nutrition, engineering) approach to our research and innovation system to make the best use of limited resources.
We can’t know the future, but we can influence it. The livestock sector should plant a flag to start the collective effort needed to meet the risks and seize the opportunities that lay ahead.
Mike McMorris is Chief Executive Officer of the Livestock Research Innovation Corporation and has more than 30 years’ experience in the livestock sector working for government, producers, and industry organizations. Follow LRIC on Twitter: @LivestockInnov.
This article was first published in the June 27, 2022 edition of Farmtario.