*Joel Stave is managing director of Spencer, Iowa-based Prairie Systems Inc. — a small company with big ideas about the importance of risk management and sustainable animal production. The company creates essential, easy-to-use technology solutions that empower producers to tackle the high-stakes issues they face every day. Prairie Systems is a division of JBS United. Stave can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (712) 580-3311.
EACH year around this time, my company's team gets together for some holiday cheer and what I like to call "blue sky thinking." It's meant to be just that: thinking about what's possible to help animal producers become more effective in the next year. It's not meant to be a business planning session — just one in which we imagine a better, more effective world for our industry.
So, over a few drinks and laughs, we started talking. We began to focus around the idea of the American heartland and the strong communities this life has created — as much out of necessity as desire. We all agreed that we need to do more, make technology easier and be more effective at building and sustaining these strong communities. We also talked about the real need to open better communication channels and foster more collaboration between producers and their partners, such as suppliers, veterinarians, industry consultants and retailers, to name a few.
Digital communities: New frontier
We believe in digital communities of American protein producers: 21st-century communities that embody the core values we have always held.
We believe that digital is the gateway to better communication, seamless information and insights and more collaboration between protein industry partners. It is the new frontier. We are optimistic about the potential of digital to deliver on these critical needs.
American producers enjoy a long-standing reputation for exceptional quality and are seen as the architects of a production system that is second to none. This reputation has been built over more than a century of hard work, high standards and a strong midwestern work ethic — and that, my friends, is something that money can't buy. We should be proud to stand together in this great American industry.
Nonetheless, the world is changing around us, and we, like many industries, are challenged to keep up. We are no strangers to obstacles or hard work in this country, especially in the Midwest.
Take Mayo Clinic, which recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. Its story is remarkable: a frontier hospital, started by two brothers with the single goal of providing exceptional care for their community. Mayo continually pushed the boundaries of medical innovation, and today, it is seen as the best in the world — a place where local folks mix with kings and presidents, all seeking the clinic's world-class care. Mayo never walked away from a challenge, and that's a lesson for all of us.
So, where does innovation factor into protein production?
Seamless information, communication, collaboration
There is no shortage of knowledge in the American meat industry. What is lacking, though, is a way to share what we know with others in our network — exchanging information and sharing insights that enable better production practices and better products. That is where the real innovation can occur.
Going digital will enable this essential transformation to occur, and it's increasingly important for the American protein industry to embrace this new technology standard. Here's why:
* Protein producers are way behind in the "go digital" movement. In other industries, the question is not whether to adopt digital technologies but how to transform entire enterprises into fast-moving, global communities able to optimize opportunities and avoid issues in real time.
* Farmers are lightyears ahead of us, with digital solutions for soil optimization, fertilization, weather mapping — solutions that even correct human error — all integrated in a single dashboard on the John Deere.
* Retailers have already been there forever with bar coding and the like.
* Veterinarians now must manage Veterinary Feed Directive regulations along with everything else, as if their jobs were not complicated enough. Without integrated information shared electronically, it will become a monumental task to keep up.
* Regulators are at our doorstep, and they are more intense than ever before. Not to worry, though, as the Food & Drug Administration won't require electronic records of your production — yet. Instead, you can expect your customers to demand safety certifications and other assurances from you, and you can bet that electronic records will be the new standard if you want to keep doing business with your most important customers.
* Consumers are the ultimate influencers in this new food world. With information at their fingertips, they are delivering an ultimatum to producers to disclose where and how the meat they buy was produced and what its journey has been from farm to fork. These new "educated consumers" are having a domino effect that starts in Washington, D.C., and ends on the prairies of the mighty Midwest.
* A growing global middle class from among a projected population of 9 billion people by 2050. Do the math. Period.
Speed and ease of information exchange are essential for producers to remain effective in this hyper-connected, high-demand, farm-to-food chain. Sooner or later, your customers will require it, and changes in the industry will make it impossible to operate without it.
Today, it is possible to:
* Respond instantly to a customer's request for a special order.
* Amend orders in real time to compensate for changes in production needs.
* Contact your veterinarian anytime and anywhere about a critical animal health or medication issue.
* Offer assurances and certifications to customers in real-time on the quality, safety and special characteristics they require on a particular order.
* Monitor your animal feeding regimens, and adjust them instantly and remotely.
* Keep a virtual eye on your barn to identify issues before they become big problems.
The future is what we imagined today — a future in which everyone who needs to be connected is connected anytime, anywhere; a world in which we share information and collaborate on solutions in real time; a production system that is integrated, information driven and able to set new quality and efficiency standards that satisfy market demands as never before. We believe in an industry capable of meeting the protein needs of 9 billion people in fewer than 35 years. We imagine digital communities and a digital future.
For us, in Iowa, we believe in the "blue sky." We have seen it before, and we live it every day. For you, the animal producers of America, we see a future that recaptures the values that made this industry great more than a century ago. We hope you share this optimism, and we invite you to come along on this digital journey.
Happy holidays to all of our friends in this great industry, and our warmest wishes for a very prosperous new year.