Dr. Mark Lyons: Unifying for a Planet of Plenty™

Dr. Mark Lyons: Unifying for a Planet of Plenty™

Post-COVID, there will not be a “return to normal.” According to Dr. Mark Lyons, president and CEO of Alltech, now, more than ever, we must take a leap of faith and recognize that it is up to us to make positive changes in our “new normal.” COVID-19 presents monumental challenges, but also innovative opportunities, particularly in agriculture.

“We can see that ag is not a problem to be solved, but is a potential solution,” said Dr. Lyons, “and we’ve heard so many examples and so many ideas this week of ways that we can do just that.”

In his closing keynote presentation, Dr. Lyons shared his key takeaways from the launch week of the Alltech ONE Virtual Experience, which features on-demand insights from leading experts in agriculture and beyond. Many of the highlights illustrated Alltech’s Planet of Plenty™ vision of promise, possibility and positivity for the future, which centers on the belief that a world of abundance is achievable, but it will take all of us working together.

Leadership is not a title — it is action

Now is a time for leadership, both at individual companies and in the agriculture industry as a whole. However, we may need to tweak our idea of what makes a great leader.

“Leadership is not a title,” said Dr. Lyons. “Leadership, to me, is an action. You aren’t a leader because you hold a certain position or a certain role. Much as we’ve heard that love is a verb, something active, so is leadership.”

He noted that in a crisis, a leader must exemplify three traits:

1. Decision-making

2. Confidence

3. Trust in their people

There is, however, one important thing that can undermine leadership: ego.

“In a crisis, a leader must put their ego aside,” said Dr. Lyons. “We as leaders must realize that the decisions we are making are impacting so many more people and in much more profound ways during a crisis. In that regard, our personal well-being and our interests must be subjugated to the importance of others’.”

Already, we are seeing many examples of people setting aside their differences, coming together and thinking through challenges creatively. These, Dr. Lyons said, are the teams that will win in a crisis.

We must listen to the experts

An important component of Alltech’s Planet of Plenty vision is the need to listen to our experts, from farmers to scientists to economists, as well as those from many other professions. Even when we do not like the ideas that experts present, it is important that we acknowledge them.

“We need to take the time and energy to understand them and, if we agree, put a little more energy in and make sure we can communicate these ideas to a broader audience,” said Dr. Lyons. “Their insights and their ideas often hold the key to not only those new innovations, but the mere survival, at times, of our industry and our society. Making sure that we are giving time to those experts, I hope, will be a legacy of this time.”

We could be seeing a resurgence in the public’s openness to listening to experts. Their insights could make all the difference in helping us achieve a more abundant world for everyone.

Telling your story, and the story of agriculture, is critical

Trust has become the new currency of our time. Consumers are voting for brands that they trust with their money and their loyalty. Brands that showed up during COVID-19 with a strong focus on the environmental, social and governance (ESG) aspects of their businesses, from treating their employees well to sustainability, will come out ahead.

It is important to tell these often hidden and unrecognized stories of agriculture and to celebrate the unsung heroes who put food on the table for families every day — from dairy operations harnessing cow manure to generate electricity to using insects as a sustainable protein source or farming cattle and trees together.

“You, and the stories you tell, are important,” said Dr. Lyons. “Your legacy is part of this whole story, and part of what is at stake. How and why the world is different because of what you do is an important aspect of that story, and it’s possibly one of the most important things you can do.

“Sharing your story of purpose is such a powerful thing,” he continued, “not simply because it builds the understanding of others, but it also gives them the right to do the same, and to feel empowered and make a change.”

We must unify and take action, today, for the future of agriculture and our planet

“We are on a journey, a journey of sustainability, and we’ve learned this week that this is never a destination,” said Dr. Lyons. “It’s something that we will be constantly changing, as we always have.”

On this journey, the only way that we can move forward is together. Luckily, at this moment of widespread virtual networking, Dr. Lyons believes a democracy has been created and has fostered an ability to connect across all levels and positions, increasing the spread of information and ideas.

The Alltech ONE Virtual Experience illustrates this perfectly, bringing more than 23,000 attendees from 118 countries together, which is roughly seven times the number of attendees previously seen at Alltech’s annual, in-person conference in Lexington, Kentucky.

Coming together as ONE team with many ideas represents the best chance we have to make positive change.

“If we unify and we take action, we can connect with leaders, we can bring about change,” said Dr. Lyons. “If we don’t, we will look at ourselves at this time next year and say that we missed that golden opportunity. What we need right now is that unified action to make sure that we make this difference and provide for this planet in an even better way than we have in the past, and truly create that Planet of Plenty.”

Access on-demand content until May 2021, with new content added monthly. Visit one.alltech.com for more information.

Breaking records with organic trace minerals in poultry

Breaking records with organic trace minerals in poultry

Granja Pavão, a layer hen operation, was founded in 1985 in São Paulo, Brazil. When it moved to the state of Goiás, Brazil, in 2000, it had 30,000 layers. Today, it has 400,000 laying hens, and it reached a historic milestone in 2019: achieving 500 eggs at 100 weeks of age without a molting period. This is not only a record in Latin America — it’s a feat that put the operation in second place globally.

“(We’re very grateful) because it shows that the sum of many things we (have) done right here in the company had a positive effect,” said Luis Fernando, owner of Granja Pavão.

In addition to implementing good housing management, a vaccination program and a specialized labor force, the company puts a strong emphasis on nutrition — particularly organic trace minerals — in their poultry operation.

Organic trace minerals in poultry production to support bird health and sustainability

Alltech has proven that organic trace minerals can be included at significantly lower levels than inorganic trace minerals while still improving animal performance. This optimizes animal mineral requirements and reduces negative environmental impacts, an innovation Alltech calls its Total Replacement Technology™ (TRT).

Granja Pavão has been working with Alltech to support its layer hen nutrition for six years. Some important goals for Luis and his team included reducing the rate of mortality in the birds, improving enteric conditions and supporting product quality in terms of albumen, Haugh units and eggshell quality. Overall, they wanted to optimize layer hen performance, and to do so, they use several Alltech technologies, including organic minerals, organic acids, probiotics and prebiotics.

“It is (satisfying) to know that this partnership is with a top company that brings us all (the) expertise and technical support, nutritional support — which is the main factor — where we see their product quality, the company responsibility,” said Luis.

In the past, Granja Pavão implemented a forced molting practice to prolong the use of the birds. Today, thanks to the genetic and nutritional improvements in the birds, that is no longer necessary.

Using the right minerals for a Planet of Plenty™

By supporting nutritional efficiency through organic trace minerals, the operation also saw increased sustainable poultry production. Because organic trace minerals are better absorbed, stored and utilized by the bird, fewer minerals are excreted into the environment. This, in turn, means fewer minerals make their way into our soils and water sources. It also has positive implications for the long-term sustainability of the business as a whole, such as decreasing antibiotic use.

“What we saw, also, was a better nutritional efficiency with the use of organic minerals and organic acids, those products that help us (with) better digestion and lower feed consumption,” said Luis. “That ensures a better quality of the GI tract, improving nutritional efficiency, supporting reduction of antibiotic use and seeing the sustainability of the business (in the) long term. Less excretion (into) the soil and better results overall, less mortality — that was very positive, too.”

As Granja Pavão illustrates, maximizing performance and yield through nutrition, technology and improved management is key to creating a Planet of Plenty™ in which plants, animals and people thrive in harmony.

Product quality over quantity to feed a growing world

For Luis and the Granja Pavão team, helping to feed the world is an important aspect of their job. Through organic trace minerals, they can make that idea a reality with optimized animal efficiency and more sustainable poultry production.

“Yes, of course we are very proud of what we do,” he said. “We see ourselves that way: being part of the society, helping mainly (in) the world, where we see so (many) food shortages in many countries, such as in Africa. And we see the meaningfulness of our sector producing food and bringing it to the table of the consumers.”

For Granja Pavão , farming a quality product is critical not only for their operation, but for the end consumers who are feeding their families.

“We know there are big farmers in Brazil with 5 million layers — however, that is not our goal,” explained Luis. “Our aim is working with quality and to bring a good result to the table of the final consumer.”

One of the ways they continue to build on this promise and support the quality of their products is to attend ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference. Alltech’s annual international conference is where everyday heroes from industries across the globe explore solutions to improve their businesses and the world around them, and it includes a poultry-specific focus session.

“That has been an experience of great intensity for us, because the (search) for new information, new technologies, that is all included at ONE,” said Luis. “The visit to other farms, the exchange of experiences with other farmers, that has been a very positive factor for our company.”

Branching out: Silvopasture for sustainable cattle production

Branching out: Silvopasture for sustainable cattle production

On most cattle farms, you don’t expect to see the livestock playing hide-and-seek between trees that are so tall, you have to crane your neck to glimpse the top. This is the striking system of regenerative agriculture Daniel Wolf and his family have been implementing on their farms in Brazil for 10 years. Known as silvopasture, farming livestock and trees together has an equally important, yet invisible, component — carbon sequestration.

“Everyone says that the best day to plant a tree was yesterday,” said Daniel, “and this kind of project, as soon as you apply this new technology, you learn a lot and you can increase your productivity and sustainability, and that’s what we want.”

When Daniel’s father, Mario, arrived in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso with friends and family in 1975, there were no roads and no communication infrastructure in place. There were, however, two important rivers nearby, as well as the Amazon biome, which includes the Amazon rainforest, a tropical rainforest and other ecoregions. Today, the Wolf family owns three farms that, together, cover 12,000 hectares, half of which they preserve as regional forest.

The local wildlife — from parrots to monkeys — is part of the Wolf family’s daily life, and they have seen how plants, animals and people can live in harmony. So, why not implement this on the farm, too?

Monkey in a tree, Amazon Rain Forest

What are the benefits of silvopasture?

Silvopasture is a form of agroforestry that combines grazing livestock with the farming of crops and trees. On Daniel’s farms, producing cattle, trees and soybeans together in a symbiotic system has allowed each element to thrive, with additional benefits to the soil and the farms.

  1. The livestock and trees work together to sequester carbon in the trunks, branches and roots of the trees as well as in soil carbon.
  2. Trees can increase animal welfare by helping protect livestock from extreme weather, such as wind and heat.
  3. Trees also provide forage for livestock to eat.
  4. The shelter and improved nutrition from these trees increase animal health as well as the production of meat, milk and offspring. In fact, some research has shown that dairy cows can improve their milk production simply by being in the shade.
  5. Livestock such as cattle provide natural weed control and fertilizer.
  6. Farmers reap the financial rewards from this decrease in inputs.
  7. The trees also provide a more diversified income by producing fruits, nuts or lumber, shielding farmers from financial risk.

Daniel has found that this system has allowed him to produce more on the same amount of land.

Beef cattle in field, looking at camera
“We increase the productivity, and we produce crops and cattle, because when you integrate the systems, you increase the fertility of the soil,” he explained. “When you do that, you can put more cows on the same amount of land, so we increase the productivity of the livestock and also the crop. So, you double your production.”

Ciniro Costa Junior is a climate and agriculture analyst at IMAFLORA, a Brazilian nongovernmental organization that works with forestry and agriculture management and certification. Through his work as a researcher with a focus on how to deliver on future demands for food with decreased environmental impact, he has seen that silvopasture systems can be carbon neutral or even generate carbon credits, meaning they can sequester more carbon than is emitted.

Growing up, Ciniro remembers only seeing bare pasture without trees used for farming cattle. Encountering silvopasture opened up a new world of possibility.

“It’s a real gamechanger, right?” he said. “Because you spend your whole life in one scenario and thinking that’s the only way to do things, and when you see silvopasture systems delivering the same products, you think, ‘Wow!’ We have a sort of evolution.”

He is also optimistic about silvopasture and regenerative agriculture’s ability to create a brighter future, even where land has previously been degraded for agriculture and other purposes.

“When I talk about this degraded land and so forth, I see opportunity — opportunity to restore, opportunity to be less impactful on the world, as a human being,” he said.

 

Producing with a passion for sustainable agriculture

For Daniel, farming is a family legacy that he hopes to pass on to future generations. It began for him when his father invited him to milk cows as a child, and afterward, they would use the milk to make fresh hot chocolate. These experiences developed in him a passion for the work, and now, he is teaching his children the same valuable lessons. During the holidays, the family’s next generation visits the farms and goes fishing, walks through the forest and learns about nature from their parents and grandparents.

“My dad is a hero for me and for our family,” said Daniel, “and I want to be a hero for my son, and for the other generations.”

He also believes it’s just as important to look beyond their family farms to how they are impacting the wider industry, and the world.

“It’s not guaranteed that my son will operate this business, or my nephew,” he said. “But we have to build a business that is sustainable for everyone. And, maybe, my grandchildren can follow the steps of my grandfather, of my father, and mine.”

 

Shedding light on silvopasture, and sharing the success

Amazon rain forest, looking to the sky through treesDaniel feels deeply tied to his family’s land, in large part because he knows the positive impact it can have on others.

“I think it’s gorgeous — I think it’s very beautiful,” he said of the land. “But it’s more than that, because here’s our life; everything that we have comes from here. And the food that we produce here can feed so many people, and they can have good moments with the food that we produce here.”

It’s why he’s convinced — despite the disinformation about agriculture and the blame it often receives — that farmers must play a central role in not only protecting the land, but also in feeding a growing global population in a sustainable way.

“Agriculture has to be part of it, because the meat that you eat, the food that you eat and the clothes that you use come from agriculture,” he said. “So does the solution to feed the planet.”

Silvopasture, with its sustainable cattle production and capacity for carbon capture and storage, is just one example of regenerative agriculture that can make a monumental difference to the health of our planet. Ciniro believes that the most important thing, now, is to create such systems on a larger scale.

“Agroforestry is not a new thing — people have been developing agroforestry forever, right?” he said. “The point is how we can translate agroforestry systems to scale, and how to scale and continue delivering products and develop value chains based on agroforestry systems.”

In Mato Grosso, cattle outnumber people, and the industry offers a rich and important value chain. Ciniro estimates that almost 10 million people in Brazil are directly or indirectly related to the beef cattle sector along that value chain.

Such staggering numbers emphasize Daniel’s belief that we are all on this journey together. Just as the cattle and trees work together on his farm, so can people from all backgrounds and walks of life.

“New technology that is invented in the city comes to the farm to increase the productivity with one thing in mind: that we are all together, and we need to preserve, and we need to make the planet better for everyone,” he explained, identifying to the solar-powered system his farms use to pump water from the ground for the cattle as an example.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the land — how it is farmed, preserved and shared by all creatures in harmony.

“My mother and my dad always said that ‘the best place to be is the place that you are,’” said Daniel. “We want to take the best of this piece of land so that we can help our family, the people who work with us, the community, the country and the world.”

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Waste not, want not: Insect farming for the future of sustainable protein

Waste not, want not: Insect farming for the future of sustainable protein

Entocycle located near Tower Bride and London Bridge in London, produces protein from the larvae of the black soldier fly. Keiran Olivares Whitaker is the CEO.

Housed inside historic railway arches close to London’s Tower Bridge is an operation at the forefront of a sustainable farming revolution. It is nothing like a traditional farm: small, urban and, most unusual, indoors. But, this cozy, inner-city space houses a herd of thousands that could change the way we look at sustainable protein production.

You may ask, “What kind of farming system could possibly operate under these conditions?” The answer is insect farming.

This urban enterprise is called Entocycle and is the brainchild of Keiran Whitaker. An environmental engineer, Keiran saw the potential benefits to crops and livestock that come from harvesting insect protein. Combining the processes inherent in nature with pioneering technologies, Entocycle accesses an untapped resource that could be vital for the future of our planet.

Its production revolves around harvesting black soldier flies, which Native American warriors once used to clean their wounds after battle. In a sense, Keiran is doing something similar in his fight for sustainability, helping to heal the food web with this alternative protein.

A lifelong vocation

For Keiran, the idea of working toward a more sustainable future has never been one that he has had to consider. It has been ingrained in him from an early age.

“From day zero, I have lived in a household where we recycle, we compost, you turn the lights off, you turn the tap off,” explains Keiran.

Speaking on Alltech’s AgFuture podcast in 2018, Keiran described how it wasn’t until he started to see the world, witnessing firsthand the effect that humans are having on the planet, that he was inspired to take action.

“I worked in Southeast Asia, Central America, South America, and I lived up here in North America for a while,” said Keiran. “Almost everywhere that I went, especially in the developing world, rainforests are being cut down; our coral reefs are disappearing — not even dying, they’re just disappearing — and our fish populations are nonexistent.”

The harsh reality of what was happening all around him convinced Keiran to return to the U.K. and get to work. Now, through sheer energy and determination, he has pioneered a new way of addressing the growing issues resulting from global protein consumption.

To supply livestock with a nutritional diet, current international agricultural production leans toward plant-based protein, like soy, or fish protein. But, each of these natural resources comes with a unique set of issues.

Soy production is predominantly based in North and South America. To fulfill global demand, suitable farmland needs to be utilized, which ultimately leads to clearing down sections of forested land, including the rainforest. Even transporting the product around the world has its own carbon burden.

Using fish protein also has a serious knock-on effect when it comes to sustainability. Much of this protein is harvested from krill, a resource at the most basic level of the world’s food web. By using up these stocks, we cause a domino effect that resonates up through the rest of the food web, eventually causing more problems for our quality of life in the long term.

And the waste is history

Another issue that Keiran set out to address, not only in animal production practices, but globally, was unnecessary waste. Figures from the U.N. show that we are currently wasting 1.3 billion tons of food per year. This again is something that Keiran has been addressing from a young age.

“If you ask anyone who has seen me eat, there is never any food on my plate,” says Keiran. “That is how I was taught. Finish everything on your plate because all that food has so much effort put into it.

“So, if you kind of go through the back story — delivering to your plate, delivering to the grocery store and then the farming of that — the tale of that food is so long that if you just end up throwing away that 30% — which is what we are doing globally — that’s just horrendous,” he continued.

With these problems in mind, Keiran started looking for a solution that would not only fulfill global agriculture’s need for protein without harming the planet, but one that could actually help it, too. He searched for inspiration in the natural world. What he uncovered was a way to not only establish a never-ending source of protein, but to do so in a way that is waste-free.

“Nature does not have any waste,” explains Keiran. “The apple falls from the tree, the worm eats the apple, the bird eats the worm and off we go up the food web. That’s all we do at Entocycle.”

Instead of apples, the Entocycle larvae feed on locally sourced beer and coffee waste, working through 1.5 tons of it over the course of a week. In the process of digesting this waste, they excrete soil, which according to Keiran could potentially be used as an alternative fertilizer. He refers to it as “a byproduct of nature.”

A food system for the future

While the idea of eating insects might not sit well with a lot of people, the benefits are undeniable. Entocycle has developed a farming system that is truly sustainable. It is completely self-contained, depending only on itself to keep running. It leaves no negative impact on the world. On the contrary, the only thing it requires from us is the material we deem to be waste, and even that is turned into something that benefits the planet.

Possibly the greatest aspect of this system is that it can be implemented anywhere, at any time, as is proven by its central London headquarters.

“This technology can go literally anywhere, whether it’s in Arctic regions of Northern Sweden down to the Sahara Desert,” says Keiran. “It doesn’t matter if there is an El Niño, a La Niña, a drought, a flood. We can produce this the same, all year round.

“Traditional agriculture will just go through seasons,” continues Keiran, “and that’s normal. That’s nature. This is a new future.”

Keiran does admit that Entocycle’s work is most likely going to be used to supplement traditional farming techniques, rather than replace them completely. But he believes that change is coming, and it will be enterprises like his that will lead the way.

“We’re going through the massive agricultural revolution,” Keiran asserts. “I like to say the engineers of today are the farmers of tomorrow.”

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Ramez Naam: Agriculture can be a hero of sustainability

Ramez Naam: Agriculture can be a hero of sustainability

The world is facing many sustainability challenges, including food insecurity, depleted water resources and natural disasters like increased flooding and wildfires. Additionally, as the middle class continues to grow, we will need to produce 60 to 80 percent more food, including more animal protein, by 2050 — and all with less water and land.

Despite these seemingly insurmountable odds, Ramez Naam, co-chair of Energy and Environment at Singularity University, believes that the Earth is actually on the path to becoming a Planet of Plenty™ and that agriculture has a critical role to play.

“What if we could go further than just limiting harm (to the planet)?” he asked during ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference (ONE19). “What if farmers could be heroes? What if agriculture could help us beat climate change?”

Winds of change: Exponential technologies on-farm

Agriculture has already made great strides with innovations like better seeds, smarter farming practices, more efficient animal nutrition, and increased monitoring and collection of data. The amount of land needed to feed each person has been dropping for decades, as farmers have discovered new ways to produce more with less. We are also currently using less water per person than at any point since World War II.

Naam said that exponential technologies are allowing for even more progress. As these technologies evolve, they become more prevalent, cheaper and democratized, allowing people around the world to utilize them. Wind and solar in particular have the potential to positively impact our energy consumption.

“Winds of change are coming, here comes the sun — however you want to say it, change is coming to the world of energy,” he said.

Importantly, producers around the world are finding ways to integrate these technologies into existing farming practices to create symbiotic relationships with plants and animals for more sustainable agriculture, including:

  • Grazing cattle and other livestock alongside wind turbines and solar panels.
  • Utilizing solar panels to shade vulnerable plants and to offer respite to animals.
  • Adding these technologies to fallow land to create additional revenue streams on-farm, with the added bonus of revenue that is less volatile and can act as a buffer during difficult times.

These practices are complementary to others, such as regenerative agriculture and no tillage, tree intercropping and managed grazing.

Ripple effects, from the animal to the consumer to the environment

Naam pointed out that taking steps to improve agricultural sustainability is also critical for consumers, who are willing to pay more for a product that’s sustainable. What was once a preference is now a demand. There is a perception, he said, that “sustainable” also means “healthy.”

These conversations between different stakeholders and industries are essential for progress, especially as preferences and expectations evolve. Collaboration will be key to helping our planet flourish.

By utilizing our greatest resource, human innovation, Naam is optimistic that agriculture can help create a world of abundance “not by doing more — by doing smarter.”

“Ideas are the only natural resource that we always have more of over time, not less,” he said, “and that’s why I’m an optimist.”