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Articles from 2013 In November


Asparagine thought essential for brain development

Researchers from the University of Montreal have discovered that the amino acid asparagine is essential for healthy brain development in children. However, they say that unlike other organs in the body, the brain cannot draw asparagine from dietary sources, and rather it needs the local synthesis of the amino acid to function properly.

The discovery, made by researchers at CHU Sainte-Justine and the University of Montreal, is focused on people with a specific genetic mutation that blocks asparagine metabolism. “The cells of the body can do without it because they use asparagine provided through diet. Asparagine, however, is not well transported to the brain via the blood-brain barrier,” said senior co-author of the study Dr. Jacques Michaud, who found that brain cells depend on the local synthesis of asparagine to function properly.

Foods that provide asparagine include meat, eggs and dairy products as well as aparagus, seafood, potatoes, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy and whole grains.

In April 2009, a baby in Quebec died of a rare genetic disease causing congenital microcephaly, intellectual disability, cerebral atrophy, and refractory seizures. He was the third infant to die in the family from the same disease. It led Michaud to discover the genetic abnormality responsible for this developmental disorder.

The team identified the gene affected by the mutation code for asparagine synthetase, the enzyme responsible for synthesizing the amino acid asparagine. The study is the first to associate a specific genetic variant with a deficiency of this enzyme.

“In healthy subjects, it seems that the level of asparagine synthetase in the brain is sufficient to supply neurons,” Michaud said. “In individuals with the disability, the enzyme is not produced in sufficient quantity, and the resulting asparagine depletion affects the proliferation and survival of cells during brain development.”

Children who are carriers of this mutation suffer from a variety of symptoms that can lead to death. The Quebec family lost three infant sons to this disorder. Two of their other children are alive and healthy.

“Our results not only open the door to a better understanding of the disease,” Michaud said, “but they also give us valuable information about the molecular mechanisms involved in brain development, which is important for the development of new treatments.”

Asparagine supplement could someday be given to infants to ensure an adequate level of asparagine in the brain and the latter's normal development but the geneticist explained, “The amount of supplementation remains to be determined, as well as its effectiveness.”  Likewise, since these children are already born with neurological abnormalities, it is uncertain whether this supplementation would correct the neurological deficits.

New project will preserve cow diversity

Plant breeders hunting for genes to combat new diseases or adapt to changes in climate can plumb the vast diversity of crops and their wild relatives using envelopes of seed banked in cold storage, but cattle breeders are limited to herds here and now, according to an announcement from Cornell University.

A new $500,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, however, is funding research on a new, stem cell-based system that could capture global herd diversity in a subzero vault.

“Right now the repositories for breeding and research only store sperm, but sperm is not an inexhaustible resource — you can't make more once it runs out — and it only contains half the genome; the other half would be provided by eggs,” said principal investigator Vimal Selvaraj, assistant professor of animal science at Cornell. “So although cows are technically abundant around the world, artificial insemination using relatively few bulls of a few breeds is making cows 'genetically endangered.'”

Problems related to low diversity are already appearing, said Selvaraj, including infertility, reduced conception rates and fewer cycles of lactation, which results in lowered milk production. In addition, herds of the future may need genes that are in danger of being bred out.

“Many interesting indigenous breeds of cattle in Asia and Africa are disappearing as they are bred with Holstein or Jersey sperm to boost milk production,” he said. “Ankole cattle from West Africa are hardy animals that are able to withstand harsh climate with limited water resources, a drought tolerance that could be very important in the future. This technology would allow us to put the brakes on the loss of genetic diversity.”

The grant will enable Selvaraj to pursue a method to preserve cow diversity using induced pluripotent stem cells. Unlike stem cells that are made from embryos, these are coaxed from mature cells. With the right exogenous factors and chemicals, they can be reprogrammed to be induced into primordial cells capable of becoming many cell types.

What's your ingredient IQ?

What's your ingredient IQ?

THE statement "know your ingredients to save big bucks" should not be controversial. I mean, there is little argument over whether accurate ingredient data can have a positive financial impact when you apply this knowledge to your ingredient purchasing decisions.

Those "big bucks" typically are found in formula cost savings or ensuring that your feed meets its intended specifications.

Today's nutritionists work in a world that is controlled by the sometimes conflicting priorities of business and science. In both worlds, the concept of accurate data is crucial and universally accepted.

It is common practice to have some type of quality control program in place, with the degree of complexity ranging from all samples being sent to third-party laboratories to complete in-house testing. Regardless, the goal of ingredient testing is to capture accurate ingredient data.

Why, you ask? Because, with ingredient costs hovering at 66-75% of total operating expenses, it is hard not to understand how accurate ingredient data can generate big bucks. We see proof of this with the practice of over-formulation. We may over-formulate to ensure animal performance or make sure our feed meets its guarantee, but what is the cost implication?

We know that protein is one of the most expensive nutrients in a diet, but what is the cost of a 1% increase in the protein requirement?

Let's look at a standard broiler grower diet that has a 19% protein requirement using ingredient costs from the Chicago Board of Trade. This diet has a per ton cost of $311.16, and if the protein requirement is increased to 20%, the per ton cost increases to $314.43. So, a 1% over-formulation of protein represents an increase of $3.27 per ton.

To take this example one step further, when the protein is increased to 21%, the per ton cost jumps to $320.77. That's a total per ton increase of $9.61 that could have been avoided with more precise insight into the ingredient data.

There are different reasons why over-formulation is done, but the more closely you can formulate to your intended nutrient requirements, the lower your formula costs will be.

These scenarios were analyzed in a controlled manner, and depending on your circumstances, achieving all of the potential savings may not be realistic. What's important is the direct relationship between accurate nutrient data and the bottom line.

With ever-shrinking margins, you are always looking for ways to control costs. The important question to ask is how to take existing ingredient testing data and turn them into actionable information that will have a financial impact on your business. Here are some further questions to consider regarding your current ingredient testing:

* Where are the data I receive?

Is there a chance that it's sitting in your inbox or possibly in a pile with other reports? How accessible is the data to other parts of the business? Does it go into a LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) program? Is Microsoft Excel your LIMS program?

* Am I using the data in the most effective way?

Do you use data only for rebates and keeping your suppliers in check? Do you have a protocol for updating your formulation system with quality control results? When your formulation system is updated, is it electronically updated or manually entered? If you are manually updating your system, how often are you catching typing errors?

Quality control data should be centrally stored to provide easy accessibility for team members while ensuring data integrity and systems integration.

The bottom line is that high-value data are coming in that must be treated as a strategic asset, not another useless report. Instead of viewing ingredient testing as an obligatory expense, treat it as an investment that can deliver top-line growth to your bottom line.

*Nicholas Dale is a formulation specialist at Feed Management Systems and has a degree in agricultural economics from the University of Georgia. Dale can be reached at [email protected].

Volume:85 Issue:49

USDA adds grass-fed beef report

USDA adds grass-fed beef report

DESPITE lacking the budget to conduct a major midyear cattle inventory, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has added a monthly report tracking the grass-fed beef market to its portfolio of agricultural market data products.

The monthly "Grass Fed Beef Report," first published in September, covers cattle prices, wholesale beef prices and direct retail prices.

According to a release announcing the new report, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) created the report in response to a request from the Wallace Center, a Virginia-based organization that "supports entrepreneurs and communities as they build a new, 21st-century food system that is healthier for people, the environment and the economy." The organization asked USDA for a data product that might help them attract more producers to grass-fed beef production.

"This monthly report will bring market clarity and exposure to assist the grass-fed industry in marketing their products," AMS administrator Anne Alonzo said. "This report will fill a significant data gap for the industry and increase transparency in the marketplace for all participants."

AMS's Market News service tracks myriad markets and metrics in a wide variety of commodities and products, often on a daily basis. Its reports are considered vital to an efficient marketplace — a reality that was underscored by the extended government shutdown in October.

Alonzo said the shutdown left the agriculture industry in the lurch, as farmers had no benchmark to accurately evaluate the market and disrupted pricing functions at the wholesale and retail level.

The grass-fed industry, generally speaking, has been flying in the proverbial dark from its inception. Basic estimates of the size and scope of the market itself are hard to come by, with most pointing toward grass-fed production as being less than 5% of all U.S. beef produced.

"The Wallace Center's pasture project focuses on improving water quality in the Mississippi River Watershed by reducing agricultural impact from nearby farmers and ranchers and addressing barriers that limit the expansion of grass-based production systems in the Midwest," AMS deputy administrator Craig Morris explained. "With the new market report and better access to information, USDA is helping farmers and ranchers who are considering converting to grass-fed operations and those who are already producing grass-fed beef."

Besides the live cattle, wholesale beef and direct market prices, Morris said as the number of market-reporting participants grows, USDA will expand the report by including trading volume data and adding graphs and other visuals.

In the October report, AMS found that grass-fed cattle sold in the range of $200-255/cwt. on a dressed basis ($127-162/cwt., live basis), and wholesale prices trended from a median price of $3.12/lb. for 70/30 ground beef to $17.53/lb. for whole tenderloin.

On a direct basis, ground beef ranged from $5.98/lb. to as much as $10.00/lb., and steaks were priced as high as $55.90/lb. for filet mignon.

While the grass-fed industry will have at least some data at its disposal now, the beef industry as a whole was disappointed to learn last month that USDA would not conduct a midyear cattle inventory for a second year in a row. Due to budget cuts mandated by the sequestration, USDA suspended a number of statistical reports in 2013, most of which were of little concern to the feed and livestock industries.

The absence of the July cattle report, on the other hand, means that the annual inventory report, released each January, will be the only official estimate of the beef breeding herd for the next calendar year. Current estimates indicate that the herd is at its smallest level in more than 50 years.

Volume:85 Issue:49

Retail meat prices set record highs

Retail meat prices set record highs

RETAIL prices for beef, pork and chicken set new record highs in October, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

USDA released both the September and October retail data last week; the September data were delayed due to the federal government shutdown in October.

Choice beef prices hit a record $5.355/lb. in October, up 7% from a year ago. Pork prices averaged $3.809/lb., up 9.3% from last year and one of the strongest year-over-year gains on record.

Composite broiler prices, likewise, saw a huge increase over October 2012, up 8.6% to $2.031/lb. Even turkey prices posted record highs, with an average retail price of $1.819/lb. in September, a 12.2% increase over the same month a year ago.

Economists Steve Meyer and Len Steiner pointed out in the "Daily Livestock Report" that turkey prices have rebounded significantly over the past few months, with the September record representing a 14% jump in prices from a "shockingly low price" recorded in June of this year.

"When combined with per capita consumption figures, these retail prices indicate that meat and poultry demand remains generally strong so far in 2013," they said. "In fact, we would characterize pork and chicken demand as very strong."

Pork demand has gained 4.1% versus one year ago for January through September, they noted, and has gained 3.1% versus one year earlier for the past 12 months. Those same figures for chicken are 2.9% higher year to date and 3.4% higher for the past 12 months.

Beef demand is stronger as well, but the percentage gains are between 1.3% and 1.9%. Turkey demand is still lagging behind year-ago levels but has improved significantly since June.

Oklahoma State University economist Jayson Lusk reported that consumer "willingness to pay" (WTP) for most food products was up again in November, based on the results of his monthly "Food Demand Survey," although slightly less so for higher-value cuts such as steaks and pork chops.

Lusk found that WTP in mid-November was up 2.5% for chicken breast, up 11.8% for chicken wings and up 1.2% for hamburger. By comparison, WTP was actually down 0.3% for steak and down 1.2% for pork chops.

Consumers said they spent an average of $94 on groceries during the month, down 2.61% from October, and spent $45.31 on food away from home, up 1.06% from a month ago. Survey respondents said they anticipate spending more money next month on food consumed at home, and they are expecting further price increases for beef and pork.

Volume:85 Issue:49

Milk, dairy hold potential for improving nutrition

Milk and dairy products hold huge potential to improve nutrition and livelihoods for hundreds of millions of poor people across the world, according to a new U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) publication launched today.

The book, Milk and Dairy Products in Human Nutrition, says governments should be investing more in programs that make milk and dairy products available to poor families and that help them produce milk at home.

"As part of a balanced diet, milk and dairy products can be an important source of dietary energy, protein and fat," said FAO senior nutrition officer Ellen Muehlhoff, who co-edited the publication. "They are also rich in micronutrients critical for fighting malnutrition in developing countries where the diets of poor people are often starch- or cereal-based and lack diversity."

A combination of food is necessary for a healthy diet, and milk and dairy products are not the only sources of essential nutrients, Muehlhoff added.

However, while animal milks are not recommended for infants under 12 months, FAO said they are an efficient vehicle for delivering vital nutrients and improving growth for young children, whose nutrition is critical in the first 1,000 days of life, she said.

Despite the benefits they could be providing, milk and dairy products are still too expensive for the poorest families to buy, the book warns.

Dairy consumption in developing countries is expected to increase by 25% by 2025 as a result of population growth and rising incomes, but milk and dairy products will likely still be out of reach for the most vulnerable households.

Governments need to address the issue by making nutrition a specific objective in dairy sector development and by investing in programs that help poor families keep small dairy livestock like goats at home, according to the publication.

Although the term 'milk' has become almost synonymous with cow milk, milk from many other species is consumed in different parts of the world. The book covers the milk composition of other major dairy species such as buffalo, goat and sheep, and species that are currently underutilized in dairy production such as reindeer, moose, llama, alpaca, donkey, yak, camel and mithun, FAO said.

"There is huge scope for developing other dairy species, particularly goats, which are easier to keep than cattle and significantly increase the accessibility of dairying to poor rural families," added FAO livestock industry officer Anthony Bennett, a co-editor of the publication.

Grocery shopping goes social

Grocery shopping goes social

MOM went to the local grocer with her shopping list and a fistful of coupons as part of a weekly chore, but today's savvy food shopper heads to the supermarket with a smartphone and store loyalty card as part of a fairly social outing.

Recent research into how consumers view their trip to the grocery indicates that how consumers buy food — not to mention how they feel about the buying experience itself — is changing considerably in a new post-digital landscape.

"How consumers interact with their food and favorite brand will continue to evolve as we head into 2014," said Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert, a noted food industry consultant and analyst. "Shoppers are looking for convenient, healthful and satisfying food for themselves and their families, and brands will rise to meet these demands through product innovation and the use of mobile technology to make shopping faster and more convenient."

Lempert examined the top trends in the grocery industry for packaged food giant ConAgra Foods and found that those in the "Millennial" generation and health-conscious shoppers are shifting the consumer palate on the macro scale, portending some major trends in the coming year.

Among those trends is solidifying health and sustainability as critical consumer concerns for the foreseeable future.

Lempert highlighted 10 trends as part of his work for ConAgra, noting that 60% of all snack foods are now positioned as healthier options (relatively speaking), based on data from Innova Market Insights.

Supermarkets will likely capitalize on consumers' desire to "eat better" by replacing traditional higher-sugar, higher-fat snacks with more healthful options such as seeds, flavored nuts and other similar "grab-and-go" types of products.

Likewise, consumers are poised to renew their commitment to eating the most important meal of the day. According to a ConAgra consumer survey, 74% of consumers said they eat breakfast at home regularly. Furthermore, Mintel research suggests that consumers are interested in adding more protein to their morning meal via eggs, meats and Greek yogurt.

While consumers want to better their bodies when they stock up on food, they also want to improve the world around them. Lempert said consumers want to find greater purpose, with 62% saying they would like to support companies that donate to important social causes.

ConAgra, for example, has donated the equivalent of more than $60 million, or more than 315 million lb., of food to children's hunger programs over the past 20 years, including the equivalent of more than 13 million meals since 2010 through a partnership with Feeding America.

Archer Daniels Midland Co. recently announced that its employees had contributed the equivalent of 271,715 lb. of food to local food banks in honor of the U.N.'s World Food Day, and Cargill donated more than 11,000 turkeys to food banks, the Salvation Army and other charitable organizations this holiday season.

Those efforts, it appears, are part of the cost of doing business with a socially conscious consumer.

 

How we buy food

Consumers increasingly view the grocery buying process itself as a social experience, with Millennials increasingly bringing social media into the equation.

According to comparison-shopping site PriceGrabber, 57% of content on photo-sharing site Pinterest is food related, and 33% of users said they have purchased foods or cooking items after seeing them on Pinterest.

Retailers are taking advantage of the trend, with stores creating infographics for use to promote various foods or products, sharing recipes that promote specific purchases and encouraging impulse purchases.

Similarly, consumers are looking for packaging to evolve to include technology as a way of obtaining even more information about the foods they are buying, including information about ingredients and sourcing.

Using an app, as one example, Lempert said consumers will soon be able to learn more about an ingredient or health claim by simply scanning the product's label using their smartphone. The technology might be used to tell where a particular ingredient is from, who prepared the food, the company's history or other consumer reviews and ratings.

A recent study by marketing firm Sullivan Higdon & Sink (SHS) found that 56% of Americans own a mobile phone, and 44% of shoppers said they are using them as an aid during the grocery shopping process. Nearly a quarter of consumers use their phone to look up recipes, while nearly one-fifth access coupons; smaller percentages use a shopping-related app, scan quick response (QR) codes and learn more about a given brand or product (Figure).

Both SHS and Lempert agree that a new type of grocery shopper is emerging, highlighting the importance of these tech-related macro trends.

Lempert identified what he calls the "IndieWoman," a younger (27 years and older), single, career-oriented woman with no children at home; these shoppers number at least 31 million and are strong potential food influencers.

SHS similarly highlighted young, single moms as an increasingly important shopper and found that 68% of mobile phone shoppers are younger than 45, 67% are female and 68% earn more than $50,000 per year (Table).

These socially savvy younger shoppers are willing to give up some measure of privacy through store loyalty cards, but only in return for an expectation of better deals on the foods and products they buy. Fifty-five percent of younger shoppers are willing to forgo privacy through these store data-mining efforts, compared with only 46% of those older than 45, and mobile phone-using shoppers are 20% more likely to give up their data for better bargains.

For shoppers of all stripes, cooking at home is coming back en vogue, with Lempert referring to grocery stores as "the new culinary schools."

Grocery stores are increasingly offering in-store educational opportunities that allow socially oriented customers to learn about new foods and cooking techniques in a fun, collaborative environment.

SHS found that catering to these would-be gourmands is smart business for retailers, as those shoppers who said they like to cook were more likely to describe grocery shopping as an enjoyable experience: 49% of consumers said shopping is enjoyable, but that rose to 55% for self-described "good cooks."

 

Grocery shopping goes social

Demographics of shoppers who use mobile phones while grocery shopping

 

-Mobile phone shoppers-

-Non-mobile phone shoppers-

Demographics

%

Index

%

Index

Under age 45

68

157

24

55

Over age 45

32

57

76

134

Female

67

108

59

94

Male

33

87

41

110

Lower income (under $50,000)

32

90

39

108

Higher income (over $50,000)

68

106

61

95

Source: Sullivan Higdon & Sink.

 

Volume:85 Issue:49

Enzyme level linked to green muscle disease

Enzyme level linked to green muscle disease

AFTER more than a decade of research into an increasingly common and costly broiler condition known as green muscle disease, a team of poultry scientists at Auburn University has identified a blood enzyme that could give breeders a non-invasive tool to screen birds for susceptibility to the disease.

Elevated levels of the creatine kinase enzyme can signal muscle breakdown and damage. In people, high levels of the enzyme in the blood can be indicators of heart attack, muscular dystrophy, acute renal failure and other serious muscle conditions. In broilers, they indicate the development of green muscle disease, Auburn said.

Technically called deep pectoral myopathy, green muscle disease is a degenerative condition of broiler chickens' minor pectoral muscles, or tenders, that causes the muscle tissue to bruise. The discolored tissue is not discovered until processing and deboning, and then it must be trimmed and discarded, costing the U.S. poultry industry an estimated $50 million a year in losses, an announcement said.

Also of concern to the industry is the occurrence of green muscle disease in birds marketed as whole carcasses or bone-in parts because the condition is rarely detected during processing, resulting in consumer complaints.

Auburn poultry science professor Joe Hess — who, with departmental colleagues Sarge Bilgili and Roger Lien, has conducted extensive research on the disease — said the condition is caused by sudden, excessive wing flapping, especially when that occurs one to two days before slaughter.

"Green muscle disease is an exercise issue," Hess said. "If you have a house full of chickens and there's a sudden loud noise or some other environmental stressor, they're going to get scared and agitated and start flapping their wings. If it's late in the growing season, that's when the damage occurs."

During wing movement, blood flow increases to a bird's major and minor pectorals, or breast muscles, causing the tissues to swell. Even though the swelling doesn't affect the larger breast fillet muscle, the tender has a more rigid covering and is confined to a tighter space. The swelling so compresses the muscle that the blood supply is cut off and the tissue bruises.

Early in the team's green muscle research, Lien perfected a technique — "encouraged wing flapping" — to assess birds' susceptibility to the condition and determine factors that contribute to development. Using that procedure, the scientists found that broiler strains bred for higher breast meat yields are more likely to develop the disease, as are broilers marketed at heavier weights and, to some degree, male birds.

They also found correlations between temperature and disease incidence.

"When the weather is hot, broilers grow at a lot slower rate than in cooler weather," Hess said. However, "cool to normal temperatures are periods of rapid growth, and broilers that get agitated during those periods have a greater likelihood of muscle damage."

In their latest focus on the relationship between creatine kinase levels and deep pectoral myopathy, the Auburn scientists induced excessive wing activity and then measured enzyme levels one to four days after the trials.

At processing, they discovered that broilers in which levels of the enzyme had jumped significantly post-flapping were far more likely to have muscle damage to the minor pectorals, leading them to conclude that encouraged wing flapping and creatine kinase levels could be used as tools in genetic selection programs to screen for green muscle disease susceptibility, the university said.

That is good news to Randall Ennis, an Auburn poultry science alumnus who now serves as chief executive officer for the chicken division of Aviagen Group International, the largest poultry breeding company in the world. Through a comprehensive network of global, wholly owned locations and distributors, Aviagen delivers day-old breeder chicks to more than 250 poultry companies in more than 100 countries.

"We always are evaluating and looking for different tools, such as identifying genetic markers, to make our program more efficient and allow our customers to realize genetic progress faster," Ennis said.

 

Whole wheat turkey

Recent work by a research group in Poland indicates that turkey diets supplemented with moderate levels of wheat — either ground and pelleted or as whole grain — enhanced the bird's gastrointestinal function, which helps improve feed conversion. The researchers also observed additional benefits attributable to wheat supplementation, including an increase in gizzard weight and a significant reduction in gizzard pH.

The group authored an article summarizing its findings, "Gastrointestinal Morphology & Function in Turkeys Fed Diets Diluted with Whole Grain Wheat," which appeared in a recent issue of Poultry Science, a journal published by the Poultry Science Assn. (PSA).

The lead author, Dr. ZenonZdunczyk, is a professor at the Institute of Animal Reproduction & Food Research, Polish Academy of Sciences. He was joined in the study by researchers in the department of poultry science and the department of histology and embryology at the University of Warmia & Mazury in Olsztyn, Poland.

The complete article is available for download at http://ps.fass.org/content/92/7/1799.

"In recent years, one view that has gained popularity is that feeding a larger particle size and whole grain to poultry improves gizzard function and overall bird health. The aim of our study was to verify a part of this hypothesis, namely that moderate dilution of complete turkey diets with whole wheat — we examined levels up to 22.5% — would improve gastrointestinal function and, hence, contribute to growth performance. Our findings indicate that this is the case," Zdunczyk said.

Approach and findings. In the study, 900 male BIG-6 turkeys were randomly assigned to five dietary treatments: a basal diet, a basal diet diluted with low levels of ground and pelleted wheat or whole wheat or a basal diet diluted with high levels of ground and pelleted wheat or whole wheat. At successive stages of the experiment, the dilution levels of wheat ranged from 5% to 22.5%.

The 180 male turkeys in each group were studied from five to 18 weeks of age. They had free access to feed and water and were kept in pens on litter in a building with a controlled environment.

The trial lasted for 126 days, with the birds weighed at the beginning of the experiment (at 29 days of age) and at the end of each feeding period — on days 56, 84 and 126. Bodyweight gain and feed conversion ratio were calculated for each period.

The results of the experiment indicated that moderate dilution of a basal diet with wheat does not reduce the final bodyweight of turkeys and that the use of whole-grain wheat improves their physiological parameters and growth performance. Supplementation of the birds' diets with whole wheat improved feed conversion as a result of improved gastrointestinal tract function, i.e., lower pH of gizzard digesta, and other parameters characterizing the physiology of the small and large intestines.

Potential commercial implications. While the work was carried out in Europe, it potentially has implications for turkey producers in the U.S., according to PSA president Dr. Michael Smith.

"Turkey production is an important poultry enterprise throughout the world, with regional ingredient availability and varying cultural preferences often resulting in significantly different rearing practices in various markets. Some of the strategies turkey researchers are pursuing — including those discussed in Dr. Zdunczyk's group's paper — may help producers address these differences," Smith said.

 

Biofuel bonanza

Chickens could be the unexpected beneficiaries of the growing biofuel industry if fed on proteins retrieved from the fermenters used to brew bioethanol, thanks to research supported by the U.K.'s Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

It has long been known that the yeasty broth left over after bioethanol production is nutritious, but it has taken a collaboration between Nottingham Trent University and AB Agri, the agricultural division of Associated British Foods, to prove that yeast protein concentrate (YPC) can be separated from the fibrous cereal matter.

The researchers have also shown that YPC may be a cost-competitive substitute for imported soybean meal-based feed and similar high-value protein feeds currently used in the diets of chickens bred for meat production.

The project was borne out of the vision of biofuel pioneer Dr. Pete Williams of AB Agri, who believed that valuable material was being overlooked when cereals were fermented to make bioethanol.

He and Dr. Emily Burton of Nottingham Trent University were able to secure funding from EPSRC for a CASE studentship that allowed them to develop and analyze the process.

To establish the nutritional value of the concentrate, EPSRC CASE student Dawn Scholey examined the composition of the newly isolated, patented YPC in a series of experiments, which showed that it can be readily digested by chickens. A paper outlining this research was published in a recent edition of Food & Energy Security.

Burton said the work is only just beginning. "Bioethanol is already a 60 billion liter per year global market, but this project shows the fuel itself is only half the story; immense value lies within other co-product streams, too. As well as the proteins, the yeast content provides important vitamins and other micronutrients," she said.

The patented process separates dried distillers grains plus solubles into three fractions — fiber, a watery syrup and YPC — allowing global production of almost 3 million metric tons of supplementary high-quality protein per year alongside the current levels of bioethanol produced. A project at a U.S. bioethanol facility is now up and running to demonstrate the performance of the process at the factory scale.

Volume:85 Issue:49

Aging farmers not cause for alarm

Aging farmers not cause for alarm

Aging farmers not cause for alarm
FARMERS are, on average, getting older. That basic fact has worried agriculture industry leaders for years, but one economist and policy expert said there is little cause for alarm, based on overall U.S. labor trends.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the age of the average U.S. farmer has trended older as the overall farm population has dwindled. Using those data, roughly 60% of the farmers in this country are 55 years old or older, while only 0.5% of farmers are under the age of 25.

Ohio State University economist Carl Zulauf examined data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Census of Agriculture" in addition to examining BLS data on the labor force at large. The average age of a principal operator increased from 54.0 years in 1997 to 57.1 years in 2007 and is up 17% from the average of 48.7 years first reported in the 1945 "Census of Agriculture" (Figure 1).

Furthermore, the percentage of principle farm operators 65 years or older has increased almost 10% since 1969. That "graying" of the farm population has led to concerns about the long-term health of family farms as an American institution, with leaders such as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack frequently citing the trend and calling for the industry to encourage more young people to return to their agricultural roots.

Comparing the age of the U.S. farmer over time to the age of the average non-farm worker, however, Zulauf found an interesting trend: U.S. workers, in general, are getting older.

"U.S. farmers are aging, but their aging mirrors the U.S. labor force," he said in a recent policy brief. "The U.S. farmer population is older than the U.S. labor force, but this has been true since 1980 and likely much earlier."

In fact, the U.S. farmer is actually aging somewhat more slowly than his non-farm counterpart. Since 1980, when age data become available on the entire labor force, the age of the average worker has increased by 7.1 years — from 34.6 to 41.7 — compared with an increase from 50.5 to 57.1 years for the farmer population (Figure 2).

There are two key reasons why an older U.S. farmer is a logical reality: general age differences in rural America and the capital-intensive nature of farming.

According to an analysis by USDA's Economic Research Service, older Americans make up a larger percentage of rural residents than in urban areas. More than 16% of the "non-metro" population is 65 years of age and older, compared with just 12.4% of the "metro" population.

Additionally, Zulauf pointed to the economic reality of owning and operating a farm as perhaps the biggest underlying factor in the "age gap" between farmers and the general labor force.

"It takes time for someone to accumulate the capital necessary to compete in U.S.-style farming, either through inheritance or savings or both," he said.

One period in history that bucked the age trend, however, was the prosperous 1970s. The farm "boom" of that decade coincided with a relative influx of younger farmers, both the offspring of existing farmers and from non-farm backgrounds.

Given the current agricultural boom, Zulauf posited that the age of the U.S. farmer could trend lower once again.

"This influx will likely occur over a number of years, and its magnitude will depend on the staying power of the current farm prosperity," he said.

Volume:85 Issue:49

Shared values now key in food choices (commentary)

Shared values now key in food choices (commentary)

FOOD is seemingly an inexhaustible subject, especially when it comes to consumer perceptions about food and the food industry.

Dealing with all the layers can seem overwhelming at times, especially when consumer views seem misguided or incorrect. To clear the noise, the industry's fallback answer is often, "Educate the consumer."

Brandi Buzzard Frobose provides her take on that approach, or, rather, the inappropriateness of that approach, in her Buzzard's Beat blog.

"Consumer is a word that I really don't like. To me, it carries the same connotation as 'educate,'" Frobose said. "We don't need to 'educate' consumers; we need to engage, interact, talk to — anything but educate. And now, I feel 'consumer' has joined the group of words that make me cringe when I hear them used during agvocate-speak. I don't even like to hear myself say it because I'm sure it inadvertently comes out as demeaning or degrading. 'I am a producer, and you are a consumer — allow me to impress you with my agriculture knowledge.' Bleh. If I was a 'consumer,' I'd smack me."

What's particularly interesting here is that one reader, responding from Australia, noted that the perspective from the Land Down Under is a little more nuanced. The producer/consumer educational construct should involve give and take (versus a top-down, producer-to-consumer pathway). In other words, educating consumers is important, but there also needs to be emphasis on learning from consumers.

On one hand, that seems obvious. After all, any successful business or industry recognizes the importance of listening to its customers.

On the other hand, when under attack by activists, the default response often leans towards the one-way approach: education. So, maybe we need to orient the industry/consumer relationship a little differently.

That's especially true considering recent survey results of grocery shoppers commissioned by Where Food Comes From Inc. (and conducted by the Service Management Group). It sheds a slightly different light on the subject.

Most notably, when asked about changing attitudes regarding food issues over the past several years, 53% of respondents indicated that supporting farms or producers whose values are similar to their own has become increasingly important.

Sure, the term "values" is pretty squishy and potentially encompasses a wide swath of different meanings or connotations. It could have been interpreted as involving specific production attributes. Alternatively, it might also denote terms like independent business owner, family-owned and stewardship. Or, maybe it's all of the above and then some?

Whatever the association, it says something about the mentality among consumers. That is, the blog post is absolutely correct: Consumers don't just want to be educated; they're also looking to connect with food producers whose values are increasingly in line with their own.

That's encouraging! Despite all the activist static out there about agriculture and food production, consumers are still open to establishing a relationship with the sector, and while they may not always say it, consumers apparently still largely hold a favorable perception of what's happening out there.

It means they're looking to connect with food producers, not activists! The balance is tipped in favor of the industry. So, the answer to activist claims may not be education but, rather, "partnership."

That will take a bit of a different mindset in order to be successful. It means that the supply chain has to be increasingly linked with each stakeholder, carefully understanding their respective contribution to whatever food product is being produced.

Such outside-in thinking also requires all entities to work together, from the first supplier to the end consumer, as part of a larger network of participants.

That's hard work, but it ultimately spells new opportunities to win the battle for the hearts and minds (and mouths) of consumers.

*Dr. Nevil C. Speer is with Western Kentucky University and serves on the board of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, a national organization devoted to engaging livestock producers and livestock health professionals in developing solutions for issues in the livestock industry.

Volume:85 Issue:49