• Consumers who have been social distancing for a year now better comprehend population densities.
Panelist Bruce Stewart-Brown of Purdue Foods suggested this could mean consumers will have a new perspective on confined animal feeding operations and animal health because of social distancing protocols due to COVID-19. He hinted that perhaps this new perspective may not be favorable for ag.
“More now after COVID is the question of density – how many animals in one area are too many. And, there's things you can do to make for better biosecurity and all that, but, honestly, you know, biosecurity has a limit as it relates to [dense] populations. We all need to kind of rethink that post-COVID.”
• Carbon is colored by different shades, and carbon neutrality in animal ag is achievable.
Erin Fitzgerald of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action explained how there are three shades of carbon emissions that consumers and farmers should understand – black carbon, gray carbon and green carbon.
Black carbon comes from sources that have been harvested from deep below the earth’s surface. Gray carbon is recycling black carbon (i.e., recycling a plastic water bottle). And, green carbon is the natural cycling of carbon between the atmosphere and the soil.
“Green carbon … is cycled through the earth. It can be sequestered and stored. Animals are a key part of this cycle. They do very, very cool things in that cycle. Their role is often misunderstood,” Fitzgerald said.
She challenged the animal ag industry to “lean into” the “net zero” conversation.
“This is the year of action on climate change,” Fitzgerald said. “We are the one sector that can fundamentally enable the transition to a net-zero economy.”
All the panelists agreed that carbon neutrality for animal proteins is not a pipe dream and will be possible in the future.
• Ag tech will increasingly move from cloud computing to edge computing.
Panelists acknowledged that rural internet connectivity is a challenge. Tech that syncs with technology in the cloud may not always be the best solution for ag technology because of this challenge. Amazon’s Karen Hildebrand said “edge computing” will become more common.
“There’s machine learning processes or IoT [internet of things] collection mechanisms that can happen, entirely out on the edge,” Hildebrand said. “We have services that are built so that you can fully containerize an application and run it out on the edge. You don't have to be cloud connected all the time.”
• Tech can help “prove” that on-farm change has occurred.
Boehringer Ingelheim’s Henry Berger said there’s an increasing need to prove that promises made by marketers about farm practices are actually occurring on-farm.
“I think this is really exciting from a technology point of view. Technology is a truly objective way of not only promising that you that I've done something differently, but actually proving with evidence that changes are taking place.”
• Tech must help farms find more “double-wins.”
Technology adoption that leads to efficiency or cost reductions are great, but VES-Artex’s Mark Doornik suggested that for technology adoption to accelerate, the technology must create more value downstream in the value chain.
“I think there's a chance for a double-win. If we can implement technologies on farms that bring operational efficiencies, but then also create the data to feed metrics downstream for transparency and traceability, it’s a double win.” He suggested that could come from a processor paying a bit more per hundredweight for empirically measured rather than subjectively measured data.
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