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.”

Charlie Crave: Long-term success in sustainable dairy

Charlie Crave: Long-term success in sustainable dairy

What is the best strategy for sustainable dairy farming that not only benefits the environment but is also profitable? Charlie Crave, a founding partner in Crave Brothers Farm and Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, explains how his family-owned dairy operation has grown with the addition of a methane digester and cheese plant, all while keeping sustainability practices at the forefront.

The following is an edited transcript of David Butler’s interview with Charlie Crave. Click below to hear the full audio.
 


David:            We’re here today with Charlie Crave of Crave Brothers Farm. How are you doing, Charlie?

Charlie:          I’m doing well today, yes.

David:            Well, thanks for joining us.

Charlie:          You’re welcome. I had a great week there in Louisville and, of course, like anything, it’s always nice to be back home, too. What an energetic, wonderful time that was at ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference.

David:            Yeah. Thank you. It’s always a lot of fun, really.

Charlie:          Absolutely, yup — a great place to meet and connect and, certainly, reconnect with so many wonderful folks throughout the world, yes.

David:            Great! Well, I’ve been on your farm several years ago, on a tour, and I thought it was a pretty fascinating place. I wonder if you could give us a little bit of the history and describe your operation there.

Charlie:          All right. Well, we have a family farm that was founded by my brothers and I, and we’ve expanded now to the point where — we have a total of four brothers. I have two sons and a nephew, so we now have seven principals in the business. We have the agronomy portion of our business, where we crop 3,000 acres and we raise our young stock replacements. We milk 1,900 cows and have a biogas plant for capturing methane gas. Then we also have a farmstead cheese factory, which is a separate business located directly across the road from the farm. So, in a nutshell, we have a farm, a digester and a cheese factory.

David:            That sounds great.

Charlie:          Yeah, a lot of family, and a lot of employees involved, too.

David:            Yeah, that’s nice.

Charlie:          It is. The family — not only the partners I’ve mentioned, but then we have some other family members that are employees. Our dad — although he’s never been an owner of the business, he’s here every day. Even though he’s in his 90s, he helps with chores and mowing the grass and all those things that 90-year-olds do, so what a great journey it’s been for him right here in Waterloo as well.

David:            And your dad had a farm when you guys were kids growing up, right?

Charlie:          That’s right. My dad ran a farm that was owned by my grandmother, and he decided to quit farming when I was 19. And somewhat because of the times and somewhat because of his wisdom, he felt that it’d be better to get out of the way and let us farm our own business, not necessarily on his coattails, and that’s what we did. So, now, 41 years later, we started with 43 cows, and we’ve grown up into the bigger numbers I just shared with you and brought in many more family members and resources along the way.

David:            Well, that’s probably been a lot of fun and a lot of work and some serious challenges over 41 years, I would bet.

Charlie:          Yes, it has been. We’ve had, of course, the weather challenges that everyone has, and we have family challenges and relationship challenges like every relationship or family has, and we feel it’s important to lean in and really embrace (each other) the very best that we can so that we can have those wonderful, lifelong relationships. And while not every day is warm and fuzzy, we do want to make sure we’re in a point where we can share Thanksgiving dinner together without being encumbered in conversations and the like, so it’s important to have a business that works not only for the family and the community and the environment, but it must, of course, work financially, too. If it doesn’t work on all of those factors, it becomes stressful for all involved, so we really work at that.

David:            All of those things that you just mentioned — you mentioned people and the environment and the economic factors — and those are, really, all the things that go into sustainability. I know that’s a big focus for you guys, for you and your brothers. A lot of times, when people think about sustainability, they just think about the environmental aspect and trying to minimize our impact on the environment, so why don’t we start out and talk about that first, and tell me a little bit about your anaerobic digester and how it works and how you got that.

Charlie:          Well, we partnered with — another firm built it initially, and it didn’t quite pan out for them financially and with their corporate structure the way they had hoped.

In the meantime, though, it has produced a lot of power. The methane gas is captured every day in these tanks. Just to back up, if folks aren’t familiar with a methane digester, we capture the manure from the farm, from the cows and the heifers, in our situation. We do add some substrate, which is a byproduct of industry, and together, they’re warmed up to 100 degrees using excess heat off of an engine generator. So, the excess heat — just like we would capture the heat in our automobile to defrost our windows, for instance — is captured, and that’s used to warm off the manure. So, we have two tanks of three quarters of a million gallons each, so that means we have a million and a half gallons of warm manure at 100 degrees, and that’s at temperature. That’s body temperature.

At that temperature, the bacteria will grow. It’s got the food, it’s got the moisture, and it’s got the temperature. The bacteria is working in there, and it gives off methane gas and other gasses. The methane is captured and used to power a large engine. That large engine turns on an electric generator, which produces electricity, which is sold to the power company. So, there are three products off the digester every day: it’s the sale of electricity to the power company; it’s the excess heat off the engine, which helps keep the digesters the proper temperature; and it also helps us out on the farm for heating our buildings, such as the office, the shop, the hot water for the nursery, and even the farmhouse.

Then, the third product, or the revenue source, would be the manure fiber. After the manure goes through this digester and it comes out, it goes through a squeezer, a press that removes the fiber, and that manure fiber is then dried again using methane gas off the digester, and then we use that fiber for bedding the cattle on the farm. It’s a very closed-loop system, but methane production is equivalent to a thousand gallons a day of diesel fuel in terms of BTUs, so it’s a substantial amount of power, substantial amount of heat that’s captured, and electricity and fiber.

The electricity, in theory, is enough power for the farm, the cheese factory and 300 homes. My little jingle that goes with this is, “The sun is shining, the river is flowing, and this produces totally renewable energy every single day,” and that it does. Unlike some systems, such as many of those in Europe, we use 100% byproduct, the manure or byproducts from other industries, to provide the tool for the digester. We do not raise any corn silage that would be fed directly to the digester or other energy sources fed directly to the digester. Everything is a byproduct. So, in a nutshell, we still have all the nutrients. We still have all the nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, and those elements are tied to an elemental form, and they are located in the liquid manure, which we apply to the field.

For field application, we have a consistent manure product that’s got some of that manure fiber removed, so it’s much easier to agitate from the manure basin, and we can apply a good, even amount of liquid manure to our fields to meet our nutrient needs for our crops. So, we get a little better return on our manure application, as well as the other three products off the digester, and that’s where I’m going to stop for now.

Not only is the digester important for our business, but really, it’s what we do before we even get to the digester. Are we really conscious of our groundwater? How are we setting our wells, our water table? Are we conscious of our soil aggregates and what we’re doing to build soil health? Are we conscious of our grazing procedures or our harvesting and our various types of erosion and cover crops and interseeding and all those factors that go into a successful agricultural and agronomic business?

Those are discussions we have had for many, many years, and we’ve realized it’s important to really lean in on them, not just to rely on the laurels of saying, “Well, we have a lower carbon footprint.” Well, it’s just part of it. What are we really doing to be leaders? Those are topics that our family takes very seriously. What can we really do to lead, in terms of sustainability, with our agronomy, our manure digester, recycling? How do we improve? I’ve even sat in on some meetings with sustainability leaders from the likes of Harley Davidson and Miller Brewing Company, and they like the farm story, but believe me, I like their stories, too, and I think we all can learn from each other, and that’s where we want to be for our business, is really engaging with some of the very best. All right. I’ll leave it there.

David:            Okay. Well, I think it’s great that you mention (that) it’s not just the carbon footprint. If we don’t keep our soil healthy or rebuild our soils that need help, and if we don’t keep our groundwater at a good level, then it’s not going to matter if we solve our carbon footprint. We’re still going to have some serious issues, and we won’t be sustainable.

Charlie:          Absolutely. We participate in a community-based farmers’ and lake owners’ alliance, so rather than the lake owners saying, “Oh, our lakes are turning green” and the farmers saying, “We have a lower carbon footprint,” there’s a lot of unknown in that conversation. So, my son, myself and some of our other family members, we’ve engaged with some of the lake owners and the conservation groups in the area. We engage with some of the folks that might be considered, well, not quite tree-huggers, but pretty close to it, and share our story, and we learn from them what are other concerns. Are they viable concerns? Then, we, as farmers, in our case — our family, our business — what can we do to address those viable concerns? Those are topics we engage in and take action on.

Some of the action involves cover crops. It involves different forages for our livestock herd. It may involve using different hybrids so we can harvest earlier, maybe taking a bit of a reduction in yield, but then allowing us more time to get our nutrients prepped for the little crops, seeded — how do we do cover crops and handle manure? Last year, we did close to 30 million gallons of liquid manure. Well, that covers quite a few acres, so, indeed, if you’re going to incorporate manure, cover crops, forages, grains, small grains, not only is it an investment financially and in time, but management — and you’re dealing with Mother Nature, of course, too, so you really have to put on the thinking cap, leaning in on that. That’s what we’re up to, and I think that’s where a lot of our industry is heading, thankfully.

It’s not easy to say, “Yeah, we have lost perhaps more of our topsoil than we want to recognize.” Even though I’m a dairy farmer, yes, I totally have a fair amount of erosion compared to being just a crop farmer. I may not understand my soil bacteria to the level that I should. I may not understand the history of my soils the way I should. These are all topics that go on for years and years, but they do require rigor to make some headway in management and understanding — but it’s a great place to be, though. It really is. It’s a conversation we relish, so that covers part of the environment and the family that can pull that off. It involves being active in the community, whether it’s in your local town or with the lake owners, so we’ve covered the sustainability portion there.

You’ve got to make a little money on it or you’re going to disappear in a very painful manner, but we’ve been doing that for 41 years. We’ve been working at it, and we have a plan to continue on for more, so that’s good news. That’s what makes me excited about even speaking at the conference or sharing that news with this podcast. As an old guy, I’m still excited.

David:            It is exciting. I think it’s good that you’re excited about talking to all the environmental groups and trying to understand their concerns because, in the process, when you’re having a conversation with them, they’re understanding what you guys do, and a lot of times, people don’t understand what farmers are doing, and that’s a dangerous thing.

Charlie:          It is. It really is. We’ve seen a lot of misperception in terms of where our food comes from and what’s healthy for my family or my children or my community, and really, most of the fear is based upon ignorance, which has been very well-proven. Some of the concerns are definitely based upon lack of knowledge on the consumer side, but some of it is based upon lack of knowledge on our producer side as well. So, I think we, as producers, really need to learn to lean in, perhaps, more than we have. It would be one of my take-home messages as a producer: really step up to lean in with all the environmental actions that can be taken, not just one or two, but really lean in.

David:            Yeah, and in the long run, it’s going to keep your farm profitable as well, so it’s not just a matter of jumping through a hoop. I know that, probably, there are plenty of environmental regulations that might feel like just jumping through a hoop, but the things you’re talking about — really looking at your soil health closely — that’s so important for your long-term survival and all of our long-term survival. Talk a little bit about some of the conservation techniques that you use. You guys grow all your own forages, right? So, you really are crop farmers as well. What are some of the things you do to protect the soil and build up the microbial health of it?

Charlie:          Well, we really try to keep something green out there, growing, year-round. I long remember someone’s quote that “if your soil is exposed, it’s like having a hole in your fertilizer tank, and it’s just leaking out, never to be recovered.” So, we think it’s really important to keep some green growth out there. Learn to do a little better every year, whether it’s with the cover crop blends, the seeding procedures, the manure applications onto the cover crops, the manure applications onto the fields, taking proper credits for all manure harvesting, yields, nitrogen efficiency ratios — all of those things all enter into our conversations.

At the harvest’s end, it’s important that you don’t feel losses. Preserve that feed well in the bunker silos. We’ve got a whole system of wrapping our silo walls in drain tile to remove any rainwater and keep our feed just at the very best quality that we can, keep down that feed shrink, and keep feeding to the cattle preservation there in the bunks — even the use of propionic acid so you have better feed conversion. For instance, in the summer, when the weather is hot and muggy, we apply propionic acid to our total mixed ration, and even though it would keep for a day in the mangers, by using propionic acid, 3% of the feed that the cows don’t eat is still good for the next day, and we’re able to feed that back to the heifers and capture more of that feed value in our livestock. It’s been working very well. Now, all of this is not revolutionary, but it does take commitment. It takes a feeding system. It takes training of employees. It takes monitoring of your feed and going into the storage, coming out where it’s being fed. The amounts of feeds shrink every day, but you’re in and you’re out.

We’ve been proving that it works. Well, we might think of conservation as being all water waste, or grass and some fields. It’s a whole variety of interaction, all the way from the soil microbes through the fields, through the harvest, through the preservation, the feeding, the financial management of all that. That’s all part of the system we embrace here at the Crave Brothers; granted, we’re not alone in the industry (in) doing that, but we need to be a leader at it, not just another producer doing the same old thing. That’s where we’re at, and it’s a great place to be, too.

David:            That’s awesome. Tell me a little bit about the — let’s talk a little bit about the people aspect of sustainability, or the social part. What do you guys do to make sure that everybody has a good quality of life and they’re not just working 90 hours a week, and they have time for their families?

Charlie:          Yeah, that’s a great point. Well, we really try to give each of the partners an area where they can take a certain amount of responsibility and to provide them, too, with a budget, so they can have the help they need so they can get done at a decent time. For instance, we all know that a dairy farm such as ours, we milk three times a day, around the clock. Well, that means you need a good parlor manager. You need good training for the people that might be bedding the cows. They need good machinery. They need a place to store that machinery so it works every day. They need an opportunity to talk with the mechanic — and a mechanic that can respond. For instance, if their bedding wagon is not working, they (should be able to) get it fixed in short order so the cows can be bedded, and then the fellow doing that work can put in a decent day and go home at a respectable hour.

One of the things that separates our farm from many others is (that) we try and have most of the folks that work here — other than milkers or the nighttime crew — they would start between 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. and go home in the afternoon, between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. or 6:00 p.m. Well, for a farm, for a dairy farm, those aren’t paid hours. If we can go home at 5:00 p.m. and maybe have supper or get our lawn mowed and then have time in the evening to go to a ball game for our kids or a meeting at church or school board, that’s not bad, especially when we think of when we were younger; you’d do well to be in the house by 7:30 or 8:00 at night and you still hadn’t eaten supper.

So, it’s been very much a focus on how to have the right people in the right places so we can all be successful. Try and take a day or a day and a half off or two days off every week, depending on the time of the year and the weather. That works. We take time and a half for about seven holidays a year. It helps to write a little incentive for folks to do a little extra work or sign up to do chores on those days. And, of course, it’s only fair to them; their families have to make some sacrifices, too, so we want to be fair.

Has it been easy in the last few years, with lower milk prices? Absolutely not. We have some of the same conversations others do, but in the meantime, we’re still getting our cows bred and producing good-quality milk and a lot other — having manure applied, all those things that go into every day without having the wheel fall off — and still get home at a decent hour at night, and that’s been a real focus. So, a sustainable workforce that can stick around, maybe work here for a generation — or two, even — that’s important, and that’s who we really want to be. We want to be a preferred employer, not just a default employer, and that can be said for many industries, but do you have a plan to be that preferred employer? Well, we do, using a lot of those things that I just described, and it’s been working, thankfully.

David:            Yeah. That’s great. That brings us, maybe, to the third part of sustainability, which is the economic aspect.

You can’t do any of this if you’re not profitable, and you mentioned some of the challenges, certainly, in the dairy industry. It can be really rough, and prices go up and down. You guys have insulated yourselves from that, to an extent, by having your own cheese factory, right?

Charlie:          Yes, we have. About 21 years ago, we undertook starting to spend time and money on investigating how to add more value to our farm, and we looked into doing more with what we had, such as: do we do more machinery work? Do we do more forage harvesting? Do we buy more land and raise corn and soybeans in addition to dairy cows? All those things, I think, enter into many, many conversations throughout the world and, of course, at the career.

Finally, we took a deep breath and decided to build a cheese factory here on our farm, not knowing much about it. We consulted with some folks throughout the industry and decided to build a cheese factory a hundred yards away from our milking parlor. So, we pump the fresh milk underground from the farm to the cheese factory and, from there, it’s stored and pasteurized and used to manufacture award-winning cheeses. So, we really have a whole system of procedures and investments, financially and human-wise, in place that has allowed us to become a real leader in quality cheese production. We have primary products of fresh mozzarella and mascarpone. We do some other cheese curds and Oaxaca products, and we’d market those nationwide. We work with brokers and distributors in the food industry to get our product out and try to capture enough value to make it worthwhile of all our investment. So far, after 20 years, I’d like to say yes, it’s been working.

One of the things I often point out is (that) I would hope that, for many of us, if we bought a farm 20 years ago, we would’ve had it paid off by now or made some pretty good headway on land improvements and such, and it’s the same thing with the cheese factory. A lot of folks say, “Wow, I really like your cheese factory,” but I just ask them to pause and reflect that, indeed, we have been at it for 20 years, and I would hope that, for 20 years, they would have some success with it, too, but now, it’s been a great part of our family story: the farm, the digester and the cheese factory.

David:            Yeah. Do you think that’s also helped keep the next generation involved in your operation?

Charlie:          I would think it has, yes, especially — I have a niece that probably would not be too interested in milking cows. While many families kind of enjoy some of the show cows or the registered portion of your business, it takes some real income to support the land purchases or building a cheese factory or a biogas plant, and the cheese factory has helped provide some solid financial returns, especially as the milk price has been soft. Yeah, it’s been better than taking some of those wholesale prices that we’ve been receiving otherwise, so yeah, it has provided a lot of energy for the next generation, no doubt.

David:            All right. Well, thank you so much, Charlie. That was a great conversation. We’ve covered a lot of ground here. I really appreciate your time.

Charlie:          Well, you’re welcome, David. If you’re out this way again, get a hold of the Alltech folks, and I’d love to spend some more time with you.

David:            All right. I definitely will.

Want to learn about solutions for your dairy operation?

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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Women in Food and Agriculture: Julia Ronghua Zhu

Women in Food and Agriculture: Julia Ronghua Zhu

Julia Ronghua Zhu photo

Julia Ronghua Zhu, leads the Mycotoxin Management and Poultry teams at Alltech

Ahead of the WFA Summit 2019, AgriBriefing spoke to Julia Ronghua Zhu, who leads the Mycotoxin Management and Poultry teams at Alltech.

Julia has always had a passion for animal nutrition and graduated from China Agriculture University in 2008, before joining Dachan Group. She worked at the firm’s Tianjin feed business for six years, mainly focussing on poultry nutrition.

What is your background in agriculture?

When I was in Danchan Group, although I worked in the R&D department, my role saw me undertake a lot of other duties, such as experimental technician, formulator, marketing assistant and salesperson. It has been an interesting and rewarding journey. At Alltech I often visit customers with the sales team to audit the feed mills, helping our customers to improve the production and prevent mycotoxin contamination.

What are the key drivers in agriculture and food? What are the main challenges the sector is facing now?

I think the key driver is the consumptive power of consumers and the challenge as an industry is to react to that. The main challenges in China is African Swine Fever.

What role do women play in agriculture today and how you can see it changing in the future?

I think men and women are equal in this field, and maybe women will be more and more important.

Where do you think there are opportunities for women in the sector?

There are many opportunities for women in the agri food, especially in research and in sales. In terms of natural skills, women are patient, persistent and good at communicating and understanding others.

How can we encourage more women to join the sector?

 We need to overcome the pay gap. In general, women are not as well paid as men and that can be off-putting to women, especially those starting out their careers.

However, we are seeing more and more outstanding women in this field.

What can agribusinesses do better?

I think for a highly integrated enterprise, it needs more and more professionals to participate in the field of excellence.