In a world where coffee shops offer discounts for bringing your own cup, some countries are only a small step away from seeing ‘low-methane production’ milk in the supermarket.
Everyone is involved in agriculture. We all eat, and therefore at some stage we all have decisions to make on the type of food we eat, the kind of production we prefer and how much we want to pay for it. Consumer choices are at the helm of industry direction in this new age of agri-food.
Of course, market pressure differs, depending on where in the world you are. Animal welfare has always been high on the agenda in Europe and the Americas are currently under the spotlight regarding the inclusion of antibiotics in feed. Recently, sustainability has been cited as a reason to reduce, or completely avoid, the consumption of animal produce. As well as consumer influence, there are also legislative pressures. One example is the state of California, the largest dairy producing state in the USA, where farmers are paid an incentive not to harvest corn if the protected tricoloured blackbird has nested in the crop. In other countries, such as Germany, arable and animal production is regulated on environmental outputs of phosphorous.
At a first glance, to the farming community, these restrictions can sometimes feel difficult to meet – particularly when also hearing that we need to increase food production for a growing world population. However, on a second thought, improvement of some of these environmental parameters are also often associated with improved production efficiency and therefore profitability.
New approaches in nutrition that join up the dots between improving profitability on farm and producing a product that is more suited to the future market, are currently exciting opportunities. If utilised, these new approaches could give access to new segments in the marketing of animal produce. If at the same time, the new approaches are able to improve profitability on farm, then everything becomes more appealing and achievable for the whole supply chain.
On the horizon of animal science there are some great new developments, some of which have already landed in the nutritionist’s tool bag. Notably in ruminant nutrition, these include the understanding of how to improve nutrient efficiency, thereby reducing environmental impact; how milk fatty acid profile can influence milk fat percentage and even new parameters to mitigate the potential losses of SARA, improving welfare standards.
We live in an accelerating world of technology and perhaps the next big thing to change the beef and dairy industries will be the prediction of the impact of a diet on methane production. We have talked about methane mitigation for a number of years, knowing that it would arrive commercially at some point. In Europe, this will probably be a reality soon, particularly in the UK and Ireland. The call is to ensure that the right structure and shared objectives of the whole supply chain are in place so that this next development can happen. We feed animals to feed humans and we should take pride in the production of safe and nutritious food. When looking forward at the next ten years, I feel excited to be part of an industry that will continue to strive towards improving efficiency and taking full advantage of new developments across the whole chain.
I look forward to ordering my first low-methane latte, knowing that such a product will only be available through science, collaboration and team work in the agri-food industry.