How to improve the future of food and agriculture – Jack Bobo

How to improve the future of food and agriculture – Jack Bobo

“I want us all to imagine that we are in 2050, and we’re looking back on this moment, this day, and we ask ourselves: did we do everything that we could do to make the world the place that we want it to be?”

Jack Bobo, CEO of Futurity, opened his keynote presentation at the Alltech ONE Virtual Experience with a challenging question for the audience. If our mission is for a better future of food and agriculture, what can we do to achieve this? The answer begins with a simple yet effective solution: we need to listen to the narratives surrounding these industries.

“We give meaning to the world around us through the stories that we tell… so today in my presentation, I’d like to talk about three different stories of what food and agriculture means.”

The three stories Bobo focused on were those of:

  1. Conservationists.
  2. Consumers.
  3. Farmers.

These three groups of people have one goal: a plentiful future of food and agriculture. However, these three groups tend to actively work against each other. But why is that?

Starting with conservationists and the planet

In 2018, the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report documented that 60% of wildlife populations on the planet have disappeared between 1970 and 2014. We also know that 20% of the Amazon has disappeared in the last 50 years.

“So, this dramatic loss in biodiversity has occurred within the lifetimes of many of us,” said Bobo. “Biodiversity is undergoing this incredible challenge, and things are not looking good.”

According to these findings, the future will suffer the same trend of degrading biodiversity.

“So, we have this tremendous challenge of not destroying all of our wild spaces,” said Bobo. However, the bigger question is, “How do we make sure that we leave a world for our children that’s as good or better than the one we received?”

Many people wonder: Is agriculture the problem or solution to our conservation struggles? People tend to believe the former, yet Bobo is not convinced.

“But how do we talk about it?” asked Bobo. “What’s the story that we need to tell?”

The stories we hear about biodiversity tell us that:

  1. Of global respondents, 80% believe that poverty has either increased or remained the same over the past 20 years.
  2. The food system is broken, and agriculture is failing the people around us.
  3. All deforestation is due to agriculture.
  4. We do not have the means to feed the rapidly growing population.

The stories we need to tell about biodiversity are that:

  1. Statistically, there is less poverty than there was 20 years ago — “Yet the public,” said Bobo, “think things are getting worse.”
  2. We are producing more food on the same amount of land than we were 50–60 years ago — “This is important,” said Bobo. “If food production stays ahead of population growth, well, that means people become better fed, they rise out of poverty, nutrition and hunger disease.”
  3. Better productivity and higher yields mean more food is being produced due to higher efficiency — “Improved productivity has saved a billion hectares of forest around the world. So more than a quarter of all the forest — nearly a third of all the forest — would be gone today without productivity increases.”
  4. The rate of population growth was at its highest in 1968 when we were growing at 2.1% per year. However, today we are growing at about 1% per year. As we continue to project toward the future, that number will keep going down. Because population growth will slow dramatically but, “if that productivity was to continue, every day after 2050, it gets easier to feed the world,” said Bobo.

“And so, I want to look at this question of sustainability, and how it impacts the stories we tell about the world we live in,” explained Bobo.

Diving into sustainability with consumers

Bobo says that sustainability is not a destination — it is a journey. However, sustainability means different things to different people. Is it organic food? Regenerative agriculture? GMOs? Consumers, in particular, seem the most concerned about sustainability in agriculture.

The stories we hear about sustainability are that:

  1. Farmers need to use less fertilizer and insecticide in order to reduce run-off into the local environment.
  2. We need to farm organically.
  3. Europe has pushed to intensive agriculture and is reducing the amount of fertilizer they use and the size of their farms. This should be a global initiative.

The stories we need to tell about sustainability are that:

  1. It is a challenge for farmers to use less insecticide and fertilizer because it means that they will probably produce less food — “If you produce less food on that farm, that means you’re going to need more farms,” explained Bobo.
  2. Organic agriculture produces 20–30% less food. If the whole world farmed organically, we would need to dedicate another 20­–30% to farms, and 40% of all the land on earth is already allocated to agriculture. This would have a devastating impact, according to Bobo, including the loss of our forests.
  3. Europe practices intensive agriculture but also imports 70% of its animal feed needs. Most of their imports come from Brazil, the country with the greatest level of deforestation — “So, in many ways, Europe has exported its environmental footprint to arguably the most biodiverse country on the planet,” said Bobo.

No matter how you dissect it, it is clear that we have a problem: we need to produce more food. The Food and Agriculture Organization states that we are going to need 50–60% more food by 2050, but why is that the case if we are only going to see about 20% more people? This is directly due to an improvement in income and overall wellbeing, and when people are making money and feeling well, they buy more animal protein. Yet more protein means more crops to feed animals, hence, a spike in food production.

“The former director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, Jacques Diouf, once said that the amount of food that needs to be produced in the next 40 or 50 years is equivalent to the amount of food that was produced in the last 10,00 years,” explained Bobo. “Let me repeat that. The amount of food we need to produce in the next 40 or 50 years is greater than the amount of food produced in the last 10,000 years of human civilization.”

The challenge is daunting, and while agriculture is getting better, it is not getting better fast enough.

There are no silver bullets to solve this challenge, but we do know that we need to increase our food production as sustainably as possible.

Bobo explored possible solutions, such as:

  • Shifting diets: Many people believe that becoming a vegan or vegetarian is the solution to the problem. It is important to think about changing our diets to improve our health, but is this the way to also improve the environment? — “It’s not going to solve all of our problems,” said Bobo. He further explained that, even if the United States and Europe shifted their diets completely, people from low-income countries will be making more money in the next 30 years, which means they will be eating more protein. “So, shifting diets is important, but it can’t solve the problem all by itself.”
  • Food waste: A third of all food produced is lost to food waste. In developed countries, a third of food is wasted post-consumer. But, in third-world countries, food is wasted because of loss in the fields, supply chain and storage — “If we could somehow address that third of food that’s lost through food waste, then that would get us most of the way to our challenge,” explained Bobo. However, there are so many types of food waste (storage, distribution, consumer, field) and food waste issues with different products (tomatoes, soybeans, corn, cantaloupes) that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to solving the issue.
  • Technology: There are high-tech solutions, like gene editing and genetic engineering, and abundant ag-tech data that proves cover crops produce a higher return on investment and a lower environmental footprint.
  • Alternative proteins: “Of course, these alternative proteins are part of the solution,” said Bobo. “The problem we have, though, is that companies that are producing these different products… they’re talking about them as the solution. That plant-based proteins can eliminate livestock. That cell-based agriculture is going to make dairy obsolete.” This approach suggests that there is a silver-bullet solution to a really complex problem, “and as we’ve already discussed,” said Bobo, “there’s not one solution to the problem.” Bobo also notes that the protein market is a trillion-dollar opportunity and will only get bigger in 2050. “And so, who really believes that plant-based meat is going to become a trillion-dollar industry in just 30 years?” asked Bobo.

These solutions are all necessary for achieving sustainability. However, they have become competitors in the market rather than working together as a single solution. Bobo says we need to think about what the future will look like, and work toward opportunities instead of focusing on problems.

“We don’t need one solution,” explained Bobo. “We need them all.”

Actively working on these solutions with farmers is the best and most effective way to achieve the goals of conservationists and consumers.

Working with farmers

“I’m just happy that consumers and conservationists are now joining farmers on this journey of sustainability,” said Bobo. “Because we could use their help. Instead of framing it as agriculture is the problem to be solved, we need to help them to understand that agriculture is the solution to the problem.”

What we find from data collected by the World Resources Institute is that if agriculture continues to improve the way it has been, 60% of the gains we need to achieve a sustainable future will happen just by farmers continuing what they are already doing. The data also talks about incentivizing steps that will increase productivity and improve efficiency in:

  1. Livestock production.
  2. Reducing methane emissions.
  3. Using less fertilizer.

“Well, efficiency is something farmers want to do… So, these are huge opportunities. These are not challenges,” said Bobo.

However, if agriculture is the solution to our problem — the answer to improving the future of food — then why do we still hear that agriculture is the problem to be solved?

“Why do we talk about a broken food system when the food system was never not broken?” asked Bobo.

While it may be broken, Bobo assured the audience that the food system is better than it has ever been, and it will only continue to get better every day. But it is just not happening fast enough. Yet if we continue to spend our time spreading false stories and narratives about farmers being the problem, we cannot actively work with them toward a solution.

Organic agriculture may be critical to saving the planet, but it does not mean that genetic engineering and gene editing are not.

New alternative proteins are critical to saving the planet, but so are dairy farms and livestock production.

“It takes a menu of solutions to solve a problem,” explained Bobo.

Final thoughts

Bobo asked us an important question at the beginning of his presentation: Thirty years from now, will we be confident that we did everything that we could do to make the world the place that we want it to be?

Again, conservationists, consumers and farmers all want the same thing: a safe, plentiful and sustainable future of food and agriculture. The only way to achieve that goal is to start telling the same story, even if we are not always on the same page.

“Because if we do that,” said Bobo, “we all can save the planet.”

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

Dr. Richard Lally: Crop science and the next Green Revolution

Dr. Richard Lally: Crop science and the next Green Revolution

We are in the midst of some of the most significant scientific breakthroughs since Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution of the 1940s. Just as his innovative approach to crop science saved billions of lives, agriculture now stands poised to feed the rising population. What technology will drive the new era? Dr. Richard Lally joins us to discuss the most promising research from the field.

The following is an edited transcript of Kara Keeton’s interview with Dr. Richard Lally, research scientist with Alltech. Click below to hear the full audio. 

Kara: Alltech research scientist Richard Lally is with me today to discuss new opportunities in the crop science field. Thank you for joining me today.

Richard: No problem — a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

Kara:              Globally, consumers are demanding more and more plant-based foods and everyday items. How is this demand from consumers impacting Alltech’s crop research?

Richard:         Yeah, it’s a really interesting trend that we’re seeing now in the food industry. The consumer appears to be demanding more and more plant-based products. There are a few different reasons for this. The people are more conscious now about where their food is coming from. They’re demanding more sustainability. They’re demanding that the foods that they’re eating will have a better nutritional impact to them personally. There are also a few companies who are including more plant-based-type of promises on their labels to give a healthier, more natural feel to various types of products.

I think, from that standpoint, there’s a real opportunity in research for us to definitely help people produce better food, more nutritious food, and also help them produce in a much more sustainable way so every industrial activity out there has some kind of an environmental impact. Really, what we aim to do and strive to do is try and help alleviate and limit some of those environmental impacts of agriculture. That’s really what we’re trying to do with our Alltech Crop Science research.

Kara:              Along with traditional crop science research in the lab, I know technology is playing a bigger and bigger role every day with research and out in the field. How can technology provide farmers avenues to help meet these demands for more plant-based products?

Richard:         It’s such a fascinating, exciting time, at the moment. If you think back to Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution back in the late ’30s and early ’40s, that was really a transitional moment for agriculture and, particularly, in crop agriculture. We’ve seen a massive boom in yield, and it was really the ability to see the opportunity to pull all the technologies and the science that was there together in order to help benefit the output for crop production.

We are currently now in a period where we have some of the most exciting scientific breakthroughs that are happening. We have some of the most exciting technologies available to us now that we can use in plant breeding, et cetera.

Really, it’s when we pull all of these technologies together and we figure out how to use them in a very strategic way and bring them to the farm, implement them on the farm — we’re really going to see the acceleration of what we can merely call the second Green Revolution. There’s an array of technologies now available to us that the farmers are currently using. They are currently generating data on the farm, and it’s when we start figuring out how to decipher all of that information that we can start making real leaps and help feed the world in a very sustainable way.

Kara:              Do you have research out in the field right now, on farms or at Alltech, that can talk a little bit more about how that technology plays out day to day, both in analyzing the data as well as the production on the farm?

Richard:         Yes. Our focus as researchers in Crop Science is, we really tap into looking at the overall plant health and what exactly we can do to help benefit that. We work from every aspect of the plant or plant production, from the soil to the roots to the stem to the leaves, all the way up to the fruits and the grains. Alltech Crop Science has been around now for 25 years, and we have years and years of wonderful results from the field, so what we’re really trying to do now is understand some of the mechanisms behind these programs that we’re using with our applications and our materials.

A really, really neat technology that we can use is RNA sequencing, more of would be referred to as the “-omic”-based technologies. These are technologies that can give us a lot of information about the cellular metabolism of a plant, and we can decipher that by looking at things like RNA, looking at protein interactions, looking at the mineral status, looking at the metabolites of plants. By understanding that and understanding where our applications have a role within those technologies — understanding how our applications are impacting some of those subcellular molecular processes — we can help basically guide strategies and guide programs for growers to help them produce more foods and help them protect their crops from stresses, be they biotic or abiotic stresses.

Kara:              What are some of the mechanisms in Crop Science that are not only helping growers — that you’re using out in the field right now to produce a better product — but that are also helping the growers see a profit on that bottom line?

Richard:         Again, we work with growers. We work with our partners who help growers, and we try and develop a strategy for a grower. We offer a program and, again, we work with the soil. We work with the plant health. Really, what we’re looking at doing — are there any mechanisms within the plant that the plant can naturally call on to help it boost its growth on its own? For example, we could be looking at a defense mechanism. Is there anything we can do to help upregulate some of those benefits in the plant, which can then lead to a reduction in the need for things like the harsh or harder chemistries that would be generally overused in some systems? From a soil health angle, we might look at how we can benefit the soil by using some of our applications. Is there anything we can do to stimulate some of the microbial communities around the roots? This will help us boost better root growth, which will improve the overall health of the plant.

Kara:              Now, Richard, I know that, in 2016, you won the Alltech Young Scientist Graduate Award. What was that experience like for you? How did that impact your research that you’re doing today and inspire you to continue down this road of researching crop production?

Richard:         Yes. That was a really, really special moment for me in my life. I was working with some soil microorganisms at the time I submitted. I was advised by my professor at the time to submit a paper, and lo and behold, I ended up winning the competition. I think the real benefit to that experience was experiencing ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference. I think it’s a fabulous opportunity for the industry to come together and talk in a very down-to-earth way about the challenges in the industry — and we see, year after year, that there’s constantly action, and it comes from this meeting that is having a huge impact in the industry.

I think the other thing, really — having worked with Alltech now for a number of years — it’s actually using that technology that we work with and bringing it to a commercial setting. When I was a researcher doing my graduate program, I didn’t really see that opportunity, and it’s because I’m a scientist — and maybe I’m not as entrepreneurial as I should be — but the wonderful thing about Alltech was, they identify these mechanisms. They’ve identified these benefits from these fermentation applications, and they bring them out to the field, and they provide them for growers to actually have a real impact in the industry. So that, to me, was probably the most exciting part.

Kara:              I think it’s always exciting when you see something you imagine or you see on paper put into action, and that’s what you’re saying you see on these farm trials and with farmers.

Richard:         Yeah, absolutely. It’s been a pleasure working with the Alltech Crop Science products because, when I start introducing them into experiments, you get these really strong responses, so there are mechanisms that have existed and that we’ve loosely known about for years and years and years, but now, we’ve really taken out the magnifying glass and are having a look at what’s happening. So, it’s really interesting and fascinating to work with these applications for the better good of agriculture. It’s really exciting to be a scientist working in this area.

Kara:              As a scientist in this area, I know that you have seen many things develop, since you’ve been working in this field the past several years, but I’m sure that you have visions of what will come down the road as you continue your research. Where you do hope to see crop sciences in five or ten years? Is there anything on the horizon that is really exciting to you or you see potential for?

Richard:         Well, I think crop science — the industry and the developments that are happening — I think we’re going to see crazy changes over the next decade from the digital technology that’s available on the farm. I was recently on an almond grove, and there were people measuring how trees are shrinking and expanding in response to water stress and, then, guiding water or strategies based on these technologies, which were leading to a reduction in water use, et cetera. There are other technologies now, like CRISPR; it’s being used broadly. Actually, the European Union have blocked some of the regulations around CRISPR at the moment, but other places are embracing it — like Russia have announced that they’re going to be investing in it. North America: We see it’s allowed to be used here as well. So, I think, using the technologies that are there, we’re going to see some really, really interesting breakthroughs.

More of what I’m working with, the gene expression and other things: We have worked with Alltech on nutrigenomics, which is just the study of the gene expression. I think, using these technologies and really starting to understand the biochemistry behind some of the pathways that we’re looking at, that we’re really going to have a major impact. We’re going to be able to produce healthier fruits, vegetables. We’re going to be much more sustainable in our production through nutrient use, the reduction of pesticides, things like that. I think the future looks really bright, in my eyes.

Kara:              It sounds like there’s a lot of new opportunities out there for you in the future, and I wish you luck in your research.

Richard:         Thank you very much. Thanks for having me today.

Kara:              Thanks for coming in. That was Alltech research scientist Dr. Richard Lally.

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.”

Better barriers: Virtual opportunities in livestock management

Better barriers: Virtual opportunities in livestock management

Below is an edited transcript of Nicole Erwin’s interview with Frank Wooten, CEO of Vence. Click below to hear the full interview:

Nicole:           I’m talking with Frank Wooten, CEO of Vence, a virtual fencing company that hopes to reinvent livestock management. Thanks for joining us.

Frank:             Thank you very much for having me.

Nicole:           Frank, this technology is exciting on so many levels, from land and soil management, to nutrition and conditioning, cost reductions, and time and labor. Admittedly, all I have done is actually watch your promotional video. But all you had to do was say “Savory Institute,” and I got it. It’s rotational grazing for the most part. Was this the impetus for this technology in finding a way to get more farmers into this type of management?

Frank:             Our co-founder [Jasper Holdsworth] is a Kiwi — he’s from the northern island of New Zealand — and his family was intensifying their property that they’ve run for three generations. As part of that intensification, they were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in fencing on an annual basis, and they were looking for alternatives.

They don’t really label it as Savory or holistic — they were just basically trying to increase their productivity. The reality is, as we’ve really searched around the world, a lot of people resonate with what Allan Savory is doing in holistic management. But it started, really, from a need at a grassroots level.

Nicole:           What is your connection to marrying this kind of technology with the farm? Were you raised on a farm?

Frank:             I’m the son of an engineer, but my background is in finance. For me, it was immediately this understanding — this sense of optimization — when I looked at what Jasper was describing when we started to talk about the problem. It became clear that we could put something together with technology and artificial intelligence, as well as communications network. I brought the business background to create a business model, and we’ve done some financial engineering as well to make sure that our customers receive a return in year one — day one.

Nicole:           Even though it didn’t start out as kind of a holistic approach, it’s developed into that. Can you talk a little bit about the financial side as well as whole management and how that kind of works together?

Frank:             Yeah. I think that holistic management as people are finding out is more profitable as well. We always attacked it from the customer point of view, which was how do we increase productivity and profitability. The other side of the customer is that they had been using fencing for thousands of years. This is a practice that people’s parents and grandparents have used and has worked over generations. In order to get somebody to try something new and different in that scenario, you need to have a high bar of return for them and it can’t be something that takes for years for them to see.

What we’ve done cost-wise is we’ve created a service rather than just selling a hardware. We charge our customers $15 a year for this basic service and we assume all the responsibility of the hardware. If the hardware broke or something failed, we need to replace it, we need to go out and fix it. That gives the customers a lot more comfort rather than spending a couple hundred dollars on a piece of hardware to replace something they’ve used for hundreds of years.

Nicole:           My understanding with rotational grazing and that type of livestock management, it can take many years to understand all the components of that. How does your technology speed that up?

Frank:             What we speed up is a lot of times, it’s a huge capital investment for putting in the fencing and then you have to train your labor force in order to do it. We’ve enabled people to point click basically to create fences. Then we’re going to be able to move animals from one place to another without the need for labor.

What we enable people to do is test this out without that huge financial barrier. There’s obviously needs the ground and the grass itself generates returns over time, and that’s not something that we can speed up. But what we can speed up is what the adoption and testing rate is and reduce the barriers for that.

Nicole:           You are mentioning the pointing and clicking. I was wondering, do you kind of bank off a kind of Pavlovian style of conditioning with this technology?

Frank:             Absolutely. Most people view it in the same way as the invisible fence for dogs. The difference is being that with an invisible fence for dogs, you have to put a wire into the ground, and when a dog approaches the wire, a sound is emitted. They learn that if they don’t change direction, they will receive a shock.

We use the same training, except we have vibration involved as well. There’s an intermediate step — a sort of sound vibration — and then a small shock. It’s much less electricity than what you get it in a traditional electric fence. They learn within 48 hours that the sound is correlated to shock, and the response is very effective.

Nicole:           I’ve been to parts of New Zealand, and having Wi-Fi isn’t always an option. How important is having rural broadband connections for this type of technology?

Frank:             We’ll use whatever version of backhaul, as it were, to take the information up to The Cloud. The way that the device works is that you set up a tower on your farm — generally, we will set it up on a high point on your farm. From those high points, we can either get satellite connectivity or we can get cellular connectivity.

Even in places where people don’t normally get service on their handsets, if we put up posts 40 feet in the air, you can get some version of cellular connectivity. If they do happen to have rural broadband, it’s even better for us. But our device actually creates another network over the farm, which is the equivalent of an AM radio station. One pole can cover 10 plus kilometers — or six miles of land — in either direction.

Nicole:           How is it powered? What’s the energy source? Can you solar or—?

Frank:             Yes, we’ll use solar — I assume we’re talking at the post level, right?

Nicole:           I guess all of it.

Frank:             We looked at solar on the individual device level. We found some challenges — there are always edge cases, as we call them. In the middle of the winter in Wyoming, there is really not much solar “juice” to get, and so we’re looking at having the device on the animal powered by a battery. The reasoning for that is reliability — it’s so crucial for our customers. On the backhaul — or the tower side — of things, we do have a solar component and we just adjust that for the region in which it’s located. We have solar and a battery.

Nicole:           The first question I could see with equipment like this is that it is exposed to the elements. What is it made of, and what have you done with the design to withstand wind, rain, mud — all the “fun” things?

Frank:             We have industrial designers who basically take devices and put them through the ringer, whether it’s urine from the animals — which is actually one of the more difficult challenges. For the sun, wind and water, there are a lot of different products that protect against those elements. It’s the animal elements that add an extra degree of complexity. We’ve been testing against those and have a team that actually tests those in the field to make sure that it’s going to continue to work.

Nicole:           Okay. My experience with this type of livestock management is that it’s not really talked about in school that much. Why do you think that is?

Frank:             That’s a good question. I don’t know why that is. I think that, from what we see in the U.S., these farms are largely a family-run business. Livestock management is something that’s been handed down from one generation to the next. Some people don’t view it as the most glamorous profession when you’re doing really hard physical labor, but it has an amazing return. You’re providing food for the country. But I don’t know necessarily why it’s not discussed more in schools or viewed as a profession that people would desire. I’d like to spend more time in the hills of Montana managing cattle.

Nicole:           Do you feel like you have to educate a bit though, if we’re looking at who your target market would be with this? Already established farms would have X number of miles of fencing. How do you convince them to get rid of all that —what they’ve already invested in?

Frank:             Just to be clear, the farmer doesn’t have to get rid of their fencing.

Nicole:           Okay.

Frank:             A lot of times, what we’re looking at is the intensification. We don’t think that people will ever take away their external fences. We think it’s largely something that’s part of the psyche of owning a piece of property — you know where your land is demarcated.

Secondly, we’re creating a fence which an animal can run through. If a bear is chasing a cow, it’s going to run through that fence and it’s going to get a couple of different shocks, which gives the cow a reprieve. We’re not a hard barrier fence. We do think that there is an element of physical fencing that is still necessary.

We allow somebody who has a 10,000-acre farm or a 20,000-acre piece of property to subdivide that land without any additional infrastructure. The sales process for that person is about understanding what his land could do and could produce for him if it was intensified with this fencing.

A lot of times, that’s a really big uptake. We have customers in Wyoming who have 500 head and they could be carrying 1,500 if they had additional labor and additional fencing. Instead of spending a couple hundred thousand dollars in fencing, they spend $15,000 and have it done in one day. It’s really about educating them along those lines.

Nicole:           Say that maybe a cow does run off because it’s been chased by a coyote or something — do you have the GPS technology to track it?

Frank:             Yes. That’s a part and parcel with what we’re providing our customers. It’s not simply fencing, but it’s real-time analytics. You have the ability to see a “heat map,” as we call it. Your animal is grazing on your land over a period of time. You can see where that animal is now, but you can also see where they’ve been over the last month. You could see that your whole herd is avoiding some part of your land. You could put them in that part of your land to have it grazed. You could force them into it without the need for additional fencing.

Nicole:           How did you find your way to The Pearse Lyons Accelerator, and what was it like pitching to the audience [at ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference]?

Frank:             I spend a decent amount of time looking at different companies in the accelerator space and understanding what people are doing. I had seen a Pearse Lyons Accelerator — I had done a Google search on something — two years ago when we first started. We just weren’t at a point then where we were even close to commercialization, so it just didn’t make sense for us at that point in time. Luckily enough, we were accepted this year, and it’s been a really wonderful experience.

To anybody out there listening, as ag-tech startup, I would highly suggest applying. These guys are amazing. In terms of pitching to the audience, it’s pretty nerve-wracking. These guys at Alltech have really helped us a lot in terms of understanding the way to construct a pitch and the way to construct a go-to-market strategy. With that knowledge, it becomes a bit easier, you just get a lot more comfortable with what it is that you’re selling versus where we were a year ago.

Nicole:           How do you see the relationship with Alltech taking Vence to the next level and what is that exactly?

Frank:             The next level [for Vence] is tags on hundreds of thousands and millions of animals. We have products which co-exist right now. They have a nutritional product for animals, or they have hardware that they sell to help with silage and other items. We are trying to enhance the way that farms are managed. Their products will always be necessary in our use cases.

At some point, in the future, the way that I would love to see it evolve is that we can make a recommendation to our customers for Alltech products.

Nicole:           Frank Wooten, CEO of Vence. Thank you so much.

Frank:             Thank you.

Rotational grazing with virtual fencing – Frank Wooten, Vence

Rotational grazing with virtual fencing – Frank Wooten, Vence

Frank Wooten is the CEO of Vence, a virtual fencing company that hopes to reinvent livestock management. A Vence virtual fence works similarly to an invisible dog fence. Cattle are outfitted with battery-powered collars that warn them not to cross an invisible boundary. Unlike an invisible fence, there is no buried wire. The collars are fed GPS coordinates to create a virtual boundary, and animals that approach the boundary receive a warning sound followed by an electric shock, which is similar to the shock from an electric fence.

The ability to move a herd of animals by shifting their virtual paddock to a new location makes it possible to follow rotational grazing practices without building miles of new fencing. Rotational grazing is one of a handful of managed grazing practices that mimics the behavior of migratory herds on open grasslands. It has real benefits for soil health and forage production. Compared to standard grazing practices, rotational grazing can increase soil carbon levels, which means carbon is removed from the atmosphere and sequestered in the soil, leading to a decreased greenhouse effect.

Nicole: Frank, this technology is exciting on so many levels, from land and soil management, to nutrition and conditioning, cost reductions, and time and labor. Admittedly, all I have done is actually watch your promotional video. But all you had to do was say “Savory Institute,” and I got it. It’s rotational grazing for the most part. Was this the impetus for this technology in finding a way to get more farmers into this type of management?

Frank: Our co-founder [Jasper Holdsworth] is a Kiwi — he’s from the northern island of New Zealand — and his family was intensifying their property that they’ve run for three generations. As part of that intensification, they were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in fencing on an annual basis, and they were looking for alternatives.

They don’t really label it as Savory or holistic — they were just basically trying to increase their productivity. The reality is, as we’ve really searched around the world, a lot of people resonate with what Allan Savory is doing in holistic management. But it started, really, from a need at a grassroots level.

Nicole: What is your connection to marrying this kind of technology with the farm? Were you raised on a farm?

Frank: I’m the son of an engineer, but my background is in finance. For me, it was immediately this understanding — this sense of optimization — when I looked at what Jasper was describing when we started to talk about the problem. It became clear that we could put something together with technology and artificial intelligence, as well as communications network. I brought the business background to create a business model, and we’ve done some financial engineering as well to make sure that our customers receive a return in year one — day one.

Nicole: Even though it didn’t start out as kind of a holistic approach, it’s developed into that. Can you talk a little bit about the financial side as well as whole management and how that kind of works together?

Frank: Yeah. I think that holistic management as people are finding out is more profitable as well. We always attacked it from the customer point of view, which was how do we increase productivity and profitability. The other side of the customer is that they had been using fencing for thousands of years. This is a practice that people’s parents and grandparents have used and has worked over generations. In order to get somebody to try something new and different in that scenario, you need to have a high bar of return for them and it can’t be something that takes for years for them to see.

What we’ve done cost-wise is we’ve created a service rather than just selling a hardware. We charge our customers $15 a year for this basic service and we assume all the responsibility of the hardware. If the hardware broke or something failed, we need to replace it, we need to go out and fix it. That gives the customers a lot more comfort rather than spending a couple hundred dollars on a piece of hardware to replace something they’ve used for hundreds of years.

Nicole: My understanding with rotational grazing and that type of livestock management, it can take many years to understand all the components of that. How does your technology speed that up?

Frank: What we speed up is a lot of times, it’s a huge capital investment for putting in the fencing and then you have to train your labor force in order to do it. We’ve enabled people to point click basically to create fences. Then we’re going to be able to move animals from one place to another without the need for labor.

What we enable people to do is test this out without that huge financial barrier. There’s obviously needs the ground and the grass itself generates returns over time, and that’s not something that we can speed up. But what we can speed up is what the adoption and testing rate is and reduce the barriers for that.

Nicole: You are mentioning the pointing and clicking. I was wondering, do you kind of bank off a kind of Pavlovian style of conditioning with this technology?

Frank: Absolutely. Most people view it in the same way as the invisible fence for dogs. The difference is being that with an invisible fence for dogs, you have to put a wire into the ground, and when a dog approaches the wire, a sound is emitted. They learn that if they don’t change direction, they will receive a shock.

We use the same training, except we have vibration involved as well. There’s an intermediate step — a sort of sound vibration — and then a small shock. It’s much less electricity than what you get it in a traditional electric fence. They learn within 48 hours that the sound is correlated to shock, and the response is very effective.

Nicole: I’ve been to parts of New Zealand, and having Wi-Fi isn’t always an option. How important is having rural broadband connections for this type of technology?

Frank: We’ll use whatever version of backhaul, as it were, to take the information up to The Cloud. The way that the device works is that you set up a tower on your farm — generally, we will set it up on a high point on your farm. From those high points, we can either get satellite connectivity or we can get cellular connectivity.

Even in places where people don’t normally get service on their handsets, if we put up posts 40 feet in the air, you can get some version of cellular connectivity. If they do happen to have rural broadband, it’s even better for us. But our device actually creates another network over the farm, which is the equivalent of an AM radio station. One pole can cover 10 plus kilometers — or six miles of land — in either direction.

Nicole: How is it powered? What’s the energy source? Can you solar or—?

Frank: Yes, we’ll use solar — I assume we’re talking at the post level, right?

Nicole: I guess all of it.

Frank: We looked at solar on the individual device level. We found some challenges — there are always edge cases, as we call them. In the middle of the winter in Wyoming, there is really not much solar “juice” to get, and so we’re looking at having the device on the animal powered by a battery. The reasoning for that is reliability — it’s so crucial for our customers. On the backhaul — or the tower side — of things, we do have a solar component and we just adjust that for the region in which it’s located. We have solar and a battery.

Nicole: The first question I could see with equipment like this is that it is exposed to the elements. What is it made of, and what have you done with the design to withstand wind, rain, mud — all the “fun” things?

Frank: We have industrial designers who basically take devices and put them through the ringer, whether it’s urine from the animals — which is actually one of the more difficult challenges. For the sun, wind and water, there are a lot of different products that protect against those elements. It’s the animal elements that add an extra degree of complexity. We’ve been testing against those and have a team that actually tests those in the field to make sure that it’s going to continue to work.

Nicole: Okay. My experience with this type of livestock management is that it’s not really talked about in school that much. Why do you think that is?

Frank: That’s a good question. I don’t know why that is. I think that, from what we see in the U.S., these farms are largely a family-run business. Livestock management is something that’s been handed down from one generation to the next. Some people don’t view it as the most glamorous profession when you’re doing really hard physical labor, but it has an amazing return. You’re providing food for the country. But I don’t know necessarily why it’s not discussed more in schools or viewed as a profession that people would desire. I’d like to spend more time in the hills of Montana managing cattle.

Nicole: Do you feel like you have to educate a bit though, if we’re looking at who your target market would be with this? Already established farms would have X number of miles of fencing. How do you convince them to get rid of all that —what they’ve already invested in?

Frank: Just to be clear, the farmer doesn’t have to get rid of their fencing.

Nicole: Okay.

Frank: A lot of times, what we’re looking at is the intensification. We don’t think that people will ever take away their external fences. We think it’s largely something that’s part of the psyche of owning a piece of property — you know where your land is demarcated.

Secondly, we’re creating a fence which an animal can run through. If a bear is chasing a cow, it’s going to run through that fence and it’s going to get a couple of different shocks, which gives the cow a reprieve. We’re not a hard barrier fence. We do think that there is an element of physical fencing that is still necessary.

We allow somebody who has a 10,000-acre farm or a 20,000-acre piece of property to subdivide that land without any additional infrastructure. The sales process for that person is about understanding what his land could do and could produce for him if it was intensified with this fencing.

A lot of times, that’s a really big uptake. We have customers in Wyoming who have 500 head and they could be carrying 1,500 if they had additional labor and additional fencing. Instead of spending a couple hundred thousand dollars in fencing, they spend $15,000 and have it done in one day. It’s really about educating them along those lines.

Nicole: Say that maybe a cow does run off because it’s been chased by a coyote or something — do you have the GPS technology to track it?

Frank: Yes. That’s a part and parcel with what we’re providing our customers. It’s not simply fencing, but it’s real-time analytics. You have the ability to see a “heat map,” as we call it. Your animal is grazing on your land over a period of time. You can see where that animal is now, but you can also see where they’ve been over the last month. You could see that your whole herd is avoiding some part of your land. You could put them in that part of your land to have it grazed. You could force them into it without the need for additional fencing.

Nicole: Frank Wooten, CEO of Vence. Thank you so much.

Frank: Thank you.

Sustainable beef: Building a certified sustainable supply chain

Sustainable beef: Building a certified sustainable supply chain

The first step in building a sustainable supply chain is mapping out all of the steps in the chain. But the trip from farm to fork can be complicated for beef cattle. Deborah Wilson has spent the last several years working toward a certified sustainable supply chain for the Canadian beef industry. She compares that supply chain to a “3-year-old’s crayon drawing of scribbles.”

“Our cattle don’t follow any specific path,” she said. “One year, a person may sell his calves in the fall, and in the next year, he’s got extra feeds, so he keeps them until they’re yearlings. One year, they may go to grass, they may go directly to a feedlot, they could go to an audited operation and then they may get sold, and they may go to a non-audited operation; then, they fall out of the sustainability framework.”

The following is an edited transcript of our interview with Deborah.

Nicole: I’m talking with Deborah Wilson, senior vice president of BIXSco Inc and Viewtrak Technologies, which operates the Beef InfoXchange System (known as BIXS) based in Alberta, Canada. Deborah is a project manager of the Canadian Beef Sustainability Acceleration Pilot project, which aims to track animals through a certified sustainable supply chain. Deborah, thank you for joining us.

Deborah: Well, thank you for asking me to come.

Nicole: Can you tell us a little bit about how this pilot project got started and how BIXSco plays a role in this new tracking process?

Deborah: I sit on the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB), and we started, about four years ago, trying to define beef sustainability production in Canada. We have about 170 different stakeholders at the table right now, from bankers to animal rights activists, from environmental activists to groups like Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, as well as retailers — major grocery retailers, restaurant chains, processors and producer groups, feedlot groups, the cow-calf groups — were all at the table. There’s been a desire to define sustainability, and so, when you put that diverse group of people together, if you are going to take on an initiative this big, everybody’s voice has to be heard. So, there was no point in creating a program that didn’t have the animal rights activists at the table, that didn’t have the environmental groups at the table. They need to understand what we do, and we need to understand what their goals are in order to deliver.

It’s been a very unique learning experience for me because I came from a producer background and, in the beginning, I honestly went to my first meeting and thought, “This will never work.” But three years later — if you lock enough people in a boardroom for close to 11 hours a day and feed them one meal and say, “This is what you need to get through today and what you need to try to find the definition of or to agree on” — it’s amazing what we can do when we work together!

Nicole: Three years. That’s a commitment.

Deborah: Yeah.

Nicole: Did you see any of those stakeholders drop out along the process, or did everybody pretty much —

Deborah: No, it’s grown.

Nicole: Wow.

Deborah: Everybody has wanted to come to the table. So, we defined the indicators. We started with that — what indicates that an operation is sustainable? Then we went from there to the verification process — how do we have a third-party audit done, which really puts the “teeth” on the program? Then, what is the auditing cycle? How long are these, and how do we create that cycle? From there, we needed to determine how we track the chain of custody of the animal through all these operations, because the beef industry is not a one-trick pony. Our cattle go everywhere and anywhere. Some of them are finished on grass, some are finished as shortkeep feeders, some go directly from the cow-calf to the feedlot, so we needed a way to conduct that chain of custody. And so, that’s where my company comes in. We provide that chain of custody to the whole process.

Nicole: And in coming from the producer side — you’ve been a livestock producer for 30 years — how does it pay off to add the paperwork that a system like this might require?

Deborah: We’re not adding paperwork; we’re trying to do it all electronically. If you look at Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), which governs the sustainability programs or makes recommendations as to how to run a sustainability program, they advocate that you do as much electronically as possible or we’ll all be buried under paperwork.

How has the industry changed since I first started? Well, the paperwork has escalated; the complications have escalated. What are we looking at? The people who are buying our end-product, the beef. We have a more informed and more educated consumer than we’ve ever had in history. They have instant access to information via the internet. Is that information right or is it wrong? They’re taking it as right, some of which we know is misleading or wrong. So, this is our opportunity to build the right message. This is our opportunity to have a conversation. This is our opportunity to say that we are worried about our environmental impact, that we are trying to be socially responsible, that we are trying to be good stewards of our animals and of the land. So, that’s the changes I see.

I have grandchildren that I think will be in the industry, ultimately. They’re passionate about the cattle industry already, they’re in 4-H, they’re part of environmental stewardship programs, they’re aware of all these issues, and I want them to have a future in this industry.

Nicole In a past interview, you gave an example of a farmer with 200 head of cattle fully utilizing a sustainable change management system and adding approximately $1,200 to his profit margin. How does that work?

Deborah: Oh, you’ve done your homework.

Nicole: I read a little bit.

Deborah: Okay. That was a conversation that I had initially with some of the retailers. We did the first McDonald’s Pilot project, and we sold it on the basis of, “You should do this because it’s the right thing.” McDonald’s spearheaded that project and had a project manager come in [who] I worked very closely with. We also had a couple of major packers onboard with that, so we logged miles and miles on the road talking to producer groups. They all agreed that it was the right thing to do, but the motivation wasn’t there. So, once that pilot project wrapped, there was a group of us who came together that have been involved in the first pilot project and are involved in the CRSB, and we said, “How are we going to test the framework? How are we going to make the framework have credibility to the industry at large?” It was over dinner one night, and one of the industry people said to me, “How can I get producers involved in this?” And I said, “Cash is good. Cash always works.” I said, “We’re not greedy people. It doesn’t have to be a large amount of cash. But you’re asking them to change some of their practices; you’re asking them to pay for a third-party audit, which they are already a little scared of. If you could offer them some kind of incentive, like enough to help pay for that audit, maybe put a little extra cash in their pockets for doing the right thing, I think you’ll be surprised at the uptake.”

Nicole: And, so, that’s where the return is.

Deborah: That’s where the return is. There’s a concern within the industry of, “Yeah, yeah, so they are paying us this now…” It’s not a premium; it’s a financial credit, a financial incentive to get involved to build this program. So, what I hear is, “Yeah, but then it’s going to become a program and it’s going to then become demanded by the industry, and then it’s going to be the norm, and then we won’t get this financial credit.” And I said, “So, once we build this system and it becomes a norm and we maintain our market share and we keep having consumers that want to eat our product — tell me why that’s a bad thing again?”

Nicole: Yeah. And what did they say?

Deborah: They’re usually pretty quiet.

Nicole: Yeah.

Deborah: There’s not much they can say. Because, I don’t know about you, but my purpose in being involved in this is to create longevity and a sustainable beef industry. I don’t mean just that our beef is sustainable, but how about a cattle industry that’s sustainable?

Nicole: Since you started this pilot, have you been able to successfully track an animal from farm to table?

Deborah: We’ve done thousands of head.

Nicole: Can you tell me a little bit about what that looks like?

Deborah: Visually, when you look at tracking chain of custody, it looks like a three-year-old’s crayon drawing of scribbles. Our cattle don’t follow any specific path. One year, a person may sell his calves in the fall, and in the next year, he’s got extra feeds, so he keeps them until they’re yearlings. One year, they may go to grass, they may go directly to a feedlot, they could go to an audited operation and then they may get sold, and they may go to a non-audited operation; then, they fall out of the sustainability framework. We can still track those animals, but they went through an operation that wasn’t audited, so it looks like a huge puzzle. When we talk to the retailers about it, they say, “Well, it’s simple: just show us that they went here, went there, that you slaughtered them, we cut them up, we sold them.” Then you get to show them that drawing. I have about three different visuals. When they look at the visuals, they go, “Oh.” They don’t have any idea of what they’re asking — but it’s up to us to show them that this is how complicated it is, but we’re willing to try and work with you to do it.

It’s pretty exciting that we’ve been able to say we tracked this meat — or this animal — through all these verified operations. We send that off to the rest of the project management team, [and] they analyze it, they show it to the retailers. The retailers are committed to pay so many cents per pound for sustainable meat — we use industry averages to calculate the number of sustainable pounds — and then they come back and say, “Okay, you track this many head. That works out to $10 a head in the first quarter, $20 per head in the second quarter.” In six months, we’ve tracked over a million pounds of sustainable beef.

Nicole: Wow. And are you using, like, a tag, or how are you keeping track of the beef?

Deborah: An EID (electronic identification) tag.

Nicole: Okay.

Deborah: Yeah.

Nicole: China has recently opened its beef market to the U.S. after a nearly 15-year ban. This new market opportunity also comes with new demands: all beef must be hormone-free. Is this blockchain technology what China is looking for to confirm a product?

Deborah: Well, the biggest thing the Chinese want, first and foremost — before hormone-free — is full traceability. Then you deal with the hormone-free issue, and I think that’s something, as an industry, we really need to start having conversations about. Because the next big hurdle I see on the horizon for the beef industry is our carbon footprint. It’s already there. The noise is already in the background. When I talk to retailers sitting in those boardrooms at the CRSB and the U.S.’s roundtable as well, it’s such an opportunity to say, “I know you think your consumers want hormone-free, and I know they think that’s what they want, but the problem is, you’re taking away an efficiency in the beef production cycle that minimizes our carbon footprint.”

If you compare the difference between a serving of beef — which is four ounces — that’s raised with hormones and one without, there’s a 1–2 nanogram difference. I mean, you can look it up on the internet: how many nanograms of estrogen in a head of cabbage? And we’ll eat a big serving of coleslaw and not think anything of it. But it’s a kind of fearmongering that’s been put in people’s minds.

I recently was at a European meeting — and, again, they have the no hormones, no antibiotics policy. That’s been in place for a number of years in Europe. We have all these trade agreements that everybody is all excited about, but the trade agreements are not fitting with our current production practices. So, it’s a question of, “Can we visit with these other countries to change some of their expectations and have a good conversation, or do we actually have to change our protocols here?” Then, what does that set us up for when we start talking about carbon footprint?

Nicole: How difficult would it be for a producer to try to meet the export market’s demands on their own? Would you have to choose to produce for either domestic or export? Can you do both at the same time?

Deborah: Well, I guess you could. Yes. I mean, you’re going to have to be able to if you’re going hormone-free. They’re going to demand some level of credibility, some level of third-party audit, I would imagine, or some verification process, and we can’t do it with paper. Can you imagine if, at every stage of the game, an animal had paperwork? We saw that in the Irish Federation presentation yesterday [at ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference] in the Beef Forum, and so, I know they do a lot with paper and they do it manually, but they have 16,000 producers in Ireland, both beef and dairy, in very small herds. So, when we look at the Canadian herd, which is somewhere around 13 million, and when you look at the number of head totally in the U.S., you are looking about 90 million head. We’d be buried in a sea of paperwork. So, we need to start implementing these data management systems, these state-of-the-art systems, that can then integrate with blockchain so that you can track the exact product. Then, the product comes through with a validation and a credibility behind it.

So, it will be the choice of the producers who want to raise those cattle without those growth hormones. China is a huge market; it’s a wealthy market. We’re going to have to demand a higher price to produce beef that way, because it’s going to cost us more to produce it.

Nicole: Can the Chinese afford it?

Deborah: Fastest-growing upper/middle class in the world? The president of BIXS is Hubert Lau. He’s Canadian, born and raised, but his parents came from China. We do a lot of business in China through Viewtrak with another one of our products. He said, “You have to understand the Chinese market.” Here, we have an expression: “Keeping up with the Joneses.” I get a better job, I make more money, I buy a bigger house, I buy another car, I’m farming by a bigger tractor, I buy two of those bigger tractors, I get a bigger combine. Keeping up with the Joneses [means] you’re proud of what you own and have.

In China, they’re very limited as to what they can own. You can only wear so many Rolex watches. You can only carry so many Louis Vuitton purses. You typically can’t buy a bigger apartment. You’re lucky if you have a vehicle. If you are going to be that wealthy and have a vehicle, you’re probably going to try to buy a Bentley. The biggest market for Bentley in the world is in China. So, can they pay for a premium product? You bet they can. And the desire for beef? It keeps increasing there.

I just had that conversation with some guys that live in China and speak the language. They said beef is just a hot commodity there, whether it’s in a hot pot — which uses cheaper cuts of meat — or the ability to go out one night and have a $150 T-bone steak with a $300 bottle of red wine that came from Canada or France.

All of this has to come with a validation. I also talked yesterday in my presentation about the problem of food fraud globally. Beef is the fourth most black-marketed product or mis-marketed product or sold with the wrong claims. So, having that validation and that credibility is huge.

Nicole: What I’m hearing is [that] buyers want a story about where their food is coming from, connecting it to the farmer. Can you explain how some of these sustainable practices get translated into the supply management system? How can the consumer see that it is more sustainable, or someone who is buying from China?

Deborah: The goal of the CRSB, ultimately, is to have a label on the pack that would say “Sustainably Raised.” CRSB will be able to give consumers a website if they want that additional information. I mean, there are other kinds of marketing techniques that you can use to go with that, but it’s all a level of insurance. If I’m tracked in a data management system as having a third-party audit, that means that an outside party came on my farm and looked at what I did for 26 or 24 different indicators. So, that adds to the story.

Then, within our system, you can verify that you are a grass-only operation, or that you’re hormone-free, if that’s the route you choose to go; you can include the antibiotic treatments, you can verify that the animal’s gone past its withdrawal periods for whatever you’ve given it, that it’s had a good health protocol, good vaccination program, that it’s Angus-only. Consumers can track genetics, if they choose. They can say, “I’d really like to eat meat from an animal with three ears,” and if that’s what producers want us to put in the system, we’ll put in a category or a field for an animal with three ears. The reality of it is, we’ve gone from a one-size-fits-all program in the beef industry to one-size-fits-many. How does the consumer like their product today? They like their beef with a large side order of adjectives.

I have a son [who] grew up on a ranch, and he’s now a lawyer in the city. He goes to a niche market store. I asked him, “Why would you do that? You know how the industry functions.” He said, “Because I like the story.” And he has right to do that. He has the extra funds to pay for that story. So, we can leverage all of these techniques and tools we have to increase the value of our product. Why not?

Nicole: Your passion is clearly for beef, but how can something like this translate or be replicated by other markets, like pork?

Deborah: Oh, we’ve been asked by a number of different commodity groups to supply that verification in the background. We’re also getting significant calls from other countries. We’ve been asked about tracking fish, sheep, goats, hogs — so, you’re going to see our company evolve from the Beef InfoXchange System to the Business InfoXchange System, and we are going public with the company.

Nicole: When do you expect that to happen?

Deborah: We’ve done all the paperwork. We’re just researching names. We want to stick with that BIXS logo. We’ve been accepted by the Toronto Stock Exchange, so the IPO will probably happen at the end of September.

Nicole: Wow! Are we hearing it first on the AgFuture Podcast?

Deborah: We announced it at the Livestock Markets Association convention in Canada, and other than that, I don’t know if I said it in my presentation, but you’re pretty darn close to the top of the heap right now!

Nicole: I guess one of the questions I should have asked earlier is, through the three years of discussions and understanding what it means to have a sustainable beef product, is that what you’ll have to figure out with the other industries too — how to define what sustainable pork is?

Deborah: I say this all the time about our system: I don’t want to tell you your business model, I want to hear what your business model is today and where you aspire to go — what your wish list is — because we can build a system that can deliver almost anything. I mean, you can do anything at a cost. What’s your vision, how do you want to communicate that vision, and how do we validate that, and how do we be the support behind you to deliver what you want to deliver? I’ve had a number of meetings where I’ve been hearing about exactly that topic.

Nicole: Deborah Wilson, senior vice president of BIXSco Inc. Thank you so much.

Deborah: Well, thanks for having me.