Farm Food Facts

Jason Clay, Weed Control, Livestock-Monitoring Technology

December 03, 2019 Episode 53
Farm Food Facts
Jason Clay, Weed Control, Livestock-Monitoring Technology
Chapters
Farm Food Facts
Jason Clay, Weed Control, Livestock-Monitoring Technology
Dec 03, 2019 Episode 53
USFRA

Our Thought Leader is Jason Clay, Senior Vice President for Markets and Food at World WildLife Fund.

The Stories You NEED to Know:
• Researchers develop Livestock-Monitoring Technology.
• Here comes high-tech, mechanical Weed Control.
• Grocers need better E-commerce Platforms.


Show Notes Transcript

Our Thought Leader is Jason Clay, Senior Vice President for Markets and Food at World WildLife Fund.

The Stories You NEED to Know:
• Researchers develop Livestock-Monitoring Technology.
• Here comes high-tech, mechanical Weed Control.
• Grocers need better E-commerce Platforms.


Phil:
0:01
Farm Food Facts where every farmer, every acre and every voice matter. Welcome to Farm Food Facts for December 4th, 2019 I'm your host Phil Lempert. Remember to watch the new short film from USFRA, 30 harvests, to see just how farmers provide a source of healthy food while addressing environmental concern for current and future generations. Go to U S farmers and ranchers.org to view this impactful and heartfelt film. Today we're joined by Jason Clay. Jason is Senior Vice President for markets and food at World Wildlife Fund. He works with some of the largest companies to reduce their impact on the environment. Jason is the author of 20 books and is National Geographic's first ever food and sustainability fellow. He created one of the first fair trade eco labels and has been involved in developing many other standards for commodities including cotton, shrimp and sugar cane. Jason received his PhD in anthropology and international agriculture as a result of his interest in sustainability from working on and then running his family's farm over the course of his career. He's worked with the USDA, taught at Harvard and Yale and was awarded the 2012 James Beard award for his work on global food sustainability. He also spent 15 years working on human rights with indigenous people, refugees and famine victims. And frankly, he's the smartest guy I know about what's happening to our planet. Jason, welcome to farm food facts.
Jason:
1:37
Thank you. Nice to be here.
Phil:
1:39
So Jason, give me the top line of, of what you're seeing globally as it relates to sustainability. Are we on the right path?
Jason:
1:48
Well, I think a lot of companies are beginning to see sustainability as an issue that involves how they run their supply chain, not how they advertise their products. So it's becoming a much more serious issue and they're realizing that none of them are big enough to really make sustainability happen by themselves. So it's a pre-competitive issue. They've got to figure out better ways to work together. But the big realization, I think in the last two or three years has been that climate change and weather variability are affecting food production systems. Probably more and faster than anybody thought possible. And that's what has people concerned right now.
Phil:
2:28
So what's interesting that I hear from you is that we're moving out of the marketing claims about sustainability and you know, everybody putting a page on sustainability in their annual reports and so on, two people actually doing something.
Jason:
2:42
I think that's really true and that has some interesting implications because it means that if you're going to have to buy or line up markets from two or three different places in the world because you never know from one year to the next which is going to have too much rain or too little rain, then it really forces people to start looking at suppliers as actual partners rather than adversaries. It's not a win lose game. It's where everybody needs to align the incentives so that we have more sustainable supply chains.
Phil:
3:11
So how do we get all these people across the supply chain from the farmer to brand to really work together to get on the same page and not have this competitive nature where I'm more sustainable than you are.
Jason:
3:26
I think we've kind of begun to do that, say retailers versus retailers or brands versus brands and even in some cases farmers versus farmers. But I think what we haven't really come yet to realize fully is that supply chains are actually pre-competitive too. If one person or one player wins too much, a lot of other people lose. And that's not sustainable in the longterm. So now what we're we're seeing is that, you know, sustainability really focused a lot on environmental issues. In the past it was about orangutans and you know, other biodiversity being lost or even deforestation or grassland conversion. But we're also now seeing a shift in a way now to looking at weather. The people in your supply chain are making a decent living. Are they actually able to send their kids to school? Are their kids malnourished? These are issues that people are beginning to see in social media helps bring these kinds of things more to the attention of people. But I think traceability also forces companies to see where their products are actually coming from. And then when you see that you can look at the conditions and whether this is something you are proud of as part of your supply chain or not.
Phil:
4:41
So when we talk about a minimum wage, when we talk about giving people a fair wage for their work, I guess I have to think about what's going on in the fast food world with the $15 an hour situation. So now what we're starting to see are more fast food operations, putting in kiosks or robots in the back room and really eliminating people because they can't afford the $15 minimum wage. Are we going to see the same thing across the supply chain?
Jason:
5:11
Well, I think you're going to see automation where it's possible and now we've, we've got technology that's allowing machines to recognize color and to pick crops like fruits and even things like strawberries by machine rather than than by hand. We also are seeing some of the vertical ag operations being able to harvest leafy greens by machine rather than having people on really tall step ladders and stuff going to the tops of these operations. But I think at a global level, and even in the U S we've got a more fundamental problem about labor. We did a study and it, it didn't look at all commodities. I think we looked at seven or eight commodities and looked at a number of different producing countries and what we found was about half of those commodities were not produced legally in the country of origin. And the biggest issue is that labor is not legal. And that's true in our own country. The estimates are that half of the people in the, in the food production sector all the way even to restaurants are not legal. What does that mean when it comes to, I mean minimum wages? I mean that's just the tip of the iceberg. What that issue is.
Phil:
6:25
So how do we fix that? How do we make this labor, especially farm labor, legal and, and having a good wage and being able to send their kids off to school and how do we accomplish that?
Jason:
6:38
There's different ways. I mean there's a pork production system and a feed company in Indiana that actually has an ESOP where people who work in that company actually have an equity position in the ownership of that company. It's not deciding and it doesn't control the company, but it's like their own retirement plan. A lot of countries are beginning to have those kinds of programs. It is obviously a labor issue, but I think it's also kind of a small farmer issue or a producer issue. Primary producer. Once you get to the point of primary production, that's where most of the sustainability work needs to be done and very few people along the value chain are actually willing to pay for it. So those producers get squeezed more and more and it's them. I think that have the hardest time of actually turning a real profit at the end of the day. So how do we kind of renegotiate where and how profits are made along the system so that the whole system has helped me. And part of that is going to be that we're going to have to pay more for food because in fact we're not paying the cost of food production right now.
Phil:
7:45
Right. And the money's got to come from somewhere.
Jason:
7:47
And right now, I mean, I worked for an environmental organization right now, everybody, a lot of people talk about subsidies from government. Of course those are issues, but the biggest subsidy of all, in fact probably 10 times more than all the governments combined is the planet. The planet is subsidizing food production right now because we're not paying for the environmental costs of producing it. The cost of water, the cost of biodiversity, that cost of topsoil, we don't pay for those things.
Phil:
8:13
So when we think about this equitable way of farming, Bob's Red Mill comes to mind where Bob built this great business and turned it into an ESOP and has very low turnover and very loyal people. How easy or difficult would it be to convince farmers and everybody across the supply chain to do things like this? Are we going to be able to accomplish that? Or they're just too many people at the top making too much money? Who's going to say, you know, I don't want to give up anything.
Jason:
8:44
Well, I think it depends on how much some of these individual entities that are more in the primary production arena, like farmers themselves, the first level of of processors, it depends on how much they want to stay in business because if they're gonna stay in business, they've got to figure out a way to, to work with a broader group of people. So it may be about labor, like an ESOP like that, but it could also be one where a, an animal operation buys feed and as a way to make sure they know where the feeds coming from and how it's produced. If they could align a group of producers that would always sell to them, figure out what the price is based on whatever the price is that year or that day of the sale. But if they were aligned so that they had the longterm contract with that group, could you negotiate that? The producers of the feed grain would actually own 5% of the meat producing company, so they got value that's added to their raw materials that could make them viable
Phil:
9:47
And how do we pay back the planet when it comes to water and topsoil? How do we accomplish that?
Jason:
9:54
Well, yeah, I mean I think bringing environmental externalities back into pricing, bringing all those environmental impacts into pricing is is something that we can't bite off and chew all at the same time, but starting to pay for carbon would be a really important thing because if we could figure out how to buy not just a ton of commodities from a producer, but also a ton of carbon that they either avoided or sequestered, then that would make those producers have it another whole market that they could sell into, but it would make them more resilient to climate change because one of the best things that they could be doing is improving soil quality, which starts with soil, carbon, soil, organic matter. We need to maintain or improve the soil quality if we're going to have a future that includes farming land as opposed to, you know, farming and towers.
Jason:
10:50
So I, I think that we've really got to figure out how companies can use their supply chains to begin to buy carbon. Even if it's a, we don't call it offsets. We actually would prefer if they bought from their raw material suppliers to call it an onset. So you buy carbon that is actually created or avoided in the production of the products that you're also buying. It makes your producers more viable economically. It makes them more viable environmentally, it makes them more viable socially. We're all in this together. We've got to figure out strategies that allow everybody to move forward in a way that responds to climate change and weather variability and those kinds of issues because the change is gonna come faster now than we've ever seen before. In my lifetime as a farmer, farmers could grow two or three crops and that was it their whole lifetime. Now we're talking about changing the crops you produce every 10 to 20 years.
Phil:
11:52
And thank goodness that we have you as one of our lead strategists to help us figure this out. Jason, thank you so much for joining us today on farm food facts.
Jason:
12:01
Thank you.
Phil:
12:04
And now for the news you need to know. Researcher develop livestock monitoring technology. An ongoing challenge for livestock producers is monitoring animal behavior for signs of illness or injury. However, we're search team from the university of Nebraska has developed precision technology which allows producers to continuously monitor their animals and use the resulting data to improve their animal's wellbeing. The team comprised of electrical engineers, computer engineers and animal scientists develop this technology system using video footage of pigs, the system processes video footage from livestock facilities and use this statistical algorithms to identify individual pigs as well as providing data about their daily activities such as how much they're eating, drinking and moving. Using this data, the system can also estimate how much each pig weighs and how quickly it's growing. And while this system has been developed to identify pigs, its algorithms can also be used for other livestock, including cattle, horses and sheep, and in other technological advances.
Phil:
13:11
Here comes iTech mechanical weed control. Herbicides have long been the dominant means of controlling weeds, but mechanical techniques are gaining some attention. Do go some technological breakthroughs. A recent study which was overseen by the USDA agriculture research service has deployed the Harrington seed destructor. A machine designed to reduce the weed seed bag while a farmer's harvesting crops. The study is showing real potential. The machine can either be pulled behind a combine or integrated as part of a combine. It pulverizes the weed seeds that are rejected as part of the shaft which prevents the seeds from germinating in the next season. Adam Davis, who's been leading this study said the following. The ultimate goal is to reduce risk in weed management and reduce reliance on herbicides. With the rate of evolution of herbicide resistance, increasing and resistant weeds increasing, we're going to need other tactics to backstop those types of chemical control approaches.
Phil:
14:11
By diversifying tactics, you can reduce overall risk of weed control failures on your farm. Tech is great for smart farming, but how is it affecting the retail side of things? Grocers need better eCommerce platforms. All the predictions said that online shopping would likely become $100 billion behemoths. However, growth today, it has been fairly tame with the latest figures putting sales at anywhere from three to 5% of the total market. Industry experts believe the lack of enthusiasm comes from the following. Two things. First, consumers find online grocery too expensive, and second, consumers prefer to pick their own fruits and fresh cuts of meat. Study after study supports these points, but there's still another key factor that's keeping eat. Grocery interest lukewarm online grocery just isn't very inspiring, but e-commerce shouldn't be a limited experience, especially with the endless aisles capacity that e-commerce offers. Online. Grocers may not have the appealing aromas, colorful displays and hands on appeal of in store shopping, but they do have a larger product assortment and nearly endless array of tools at their disposal.
Phil:
15:23
Grocers have a unique opportunity to offer new experiences and food and beverage, for example, according to research from food genius, as much as 80% of consumers don't know what they're going to have for dinner on any given day. So online retailers can integrate tools into their websites and apps that combined personalized meal planning and add to cart functionality. Companies could even offer dashboards that let each shopper select among various tools. A user could select a menu planning app lone was on that alerts them to deals in the categories they most often shop. There could be a widget that shows their preferred delivery or pickup time or another that offers cooking tips. The possibilities are endless of online grocers can just get creative in using eCommerce platforms to their advantage. Thanks for listening to today's podcast episode. For more information on all things food and agriculture, please visit at usfarmersandranchers.org also, be sure to look for us on Facebook at US farmers and ranchers or on Twitter at USFRA. Until next time.
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