By Brian Arnold, Sr. Product Manager - Direct Fed Microbials, United Animal Health
As we near the close of a year unlike any other in modern history, there’s bound to be no shortage of lessons learned. When reflecting on the past 12 months, most of us have likely shared in a range of emotions; perhaps a mix of uncertainty, fear and frustration, but also hope, appreciation and perspective along the way. Looking back on the 2020’s challenges as a result of COVID-19 can provide an opportunity to identify key lessons learned, but also identify trends and opportunities that will impact the future of the pork industry.
Lessons learned on the importance of security.
2020 has solidified the connectivity of human health, food security and economic security across the globe. Interventions continue to be implemented to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission for the health and safety of nations. For those involved in the protein sector of agriculture, the 2020 pandemic has likely proved a strong reminder of the importance of biosecurity. As the impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt, many pork producers across the globe also continue to battle African Swine Fever.
Back in May, 2020, Eric Farrand, Vice President of Global Sales, United Animal Health, authored the article titled, “What COVID-19 can teach us about ASF.” Within this article, Farrand articulates the two compelling points below:
- Biosecurity is economic security. “An outbreak literally shuts down the population and limits movements and interactions to slow the spread”
- It’s always bigger than what you think. “Whatever our expectations on how our industry would respond to an ASF break, COVID is showing us that an outbreak of a virus this contagious would likely be bigger and more catastrophic than we previously might have thought. And, it will probably be around a lot longer than we thought. These are tough enemies that never go quietly.”
Both points have been reality during the COVID-19 pandemic. And, on September 10, 2020, the protein sector once again saw just how significant the impact of foreign animal disease can be on global commerce when ASF was confirmed in Germany. Biosecurity within the pork industry truly is food and economic security.
Lessons learned on adapting to change.
Another lesson learned in 2020 has been the importance of adaptability. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, teachers, students and parents found themselves collaborating on assignments through e-learning platforms. A large number of those involved in agriculture’s allied industry began working remotely, adapting new technologies to stay connected with colleagues and customers. Many food companies pivoted to direct-to-consumer channels to meet the changing needs of the consumer. And in the pork industry, supply chain disruptions caused many pork producers to implement intensive strategies to manage inventories and pig flow.
Although the pain of change may often be a barrier to action, 2020 may prove to be a reminder that when forced to think outside the box as a result of circumstances, pork producers step up to the challenge and deliver. This can be a positive takeaway and reinforce the urgency to proactively challenge the status quo for continued advancement. For pork producers, perhaps this means considering precision technologies that allow for big data to help make more informed decisions. Or, challenging traditional methods of how success is measured in production systems. In example, Dr. Joel Spencer, Director of Customer Innovation at United Animal Health, previously shared the opportunity to more impactfully monitor the reproductive fitness at the sow farm in production systems in a series of articles published on Feedstuffs in 2020. The openness to change must align with “speed of change” in a dynamic industry that seeks to meet the evolving needs of the consumer and do so profitably.
Lessons learned on what matters most.
Most importantly, 2020 has been a lesson in reminding us of what matters most – the people. Through the pandemic, the nation has recognized the pork industry is full of “essential workers” who, through it all, feed the animals that help feed the world. We are also reminded that we cannot take for granted the importance of focusing on the health, safety and well-being of ourselves and each other. For those in pork production, this may mean taking new steps to ensure the safety of on-farm employees, investing time and resources towards team building and staff development or seeking avenues to attract and retain new talent.
Speaking of people, what has the consumer taught us during COVID-19? Related to pork, consumer trends being monitored during COVID-19 indicate an increased focus on healthfulness of food, as well sustainability and simplicity when making food purchasing decisions. No company has seen greater growth than Amazon through the 2020 calendar year, and Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos has been quoted as saying, “Work backwards, scale forwards.” Working backwards from these insights and other consumer research, the pork industry can continue to identify strategies to effectively deliver consumers value.