Engagement announcement: Data and sustainability
April 17, 2016
Flirting for years, now it's getting serious
Aggregate data from cow-calf and feedlot sectors can be leveraged to further public understanding.
Data has always had a seductive aura for business. Managers dream of the ability to make pinpoint, irrefutable decisions based on hard numbers.
The reality for many businesses and industry? Like a hobbyist who is better at collecting tools than actually using them, many businesses in agriculture and food have been better at collecting data than they have at actually using it. Sometimes better at hoarding than sharing it.
That's changing rapidly and it has made big data headlines a regular in media today. One of the drivers of this interest is the growing expectations around sustainability and food.
Here are some things to watch for as data helps drive beef industry social license.
Growing sophistication. The feedlot industry and crop sector are already leaders in using data for business decision-making. As data usefulness and analysis across all businesses grows, expect new, markedly more sophisticated options to emerge. And expect new options for data to lead industry initiatives, using actual data to verify sustainability.
BIXS benefits. BIXS, the home-grown beef industry program, is one of the best industry wide examples of the potential in this new data arena. Designed to play data-sharing matchmaker between producers and the rest of the value chain, expect new progress from a renewed team. The recent announcements of carcass data sharing with Cargill is one example.
Science weighs in. A powerful example of science playing a bigger role in data collection and analysis is the study on the environmental hoofprint of the Canadian cattle industry. That study showed improvements in productivity and efficiency have also produced environmental benefits. Forages, with their extensive root system, promote healthy soil and soil microbes. That improves soil structure, reduces soil losses due to wind and water erosion, and builds carbon sequestration.
Better feed conversion efficiencies are accompanied by reductions in methane and manure production. All good messages in today's world and another example of a data driver. And more research is coming as part of Canada's beef cattle sustainability assessment.
Producer interaction. Because they are the keeper of the records, producers will be a focus of market interaction and a driver of developments in data. Larger producers will have options to solidify their positioning and smaller producers will get fresh opportunities for improvement.
For the food chain, the real value will be the ability to connect producers with their data, helping tell their story. All players in the value chain will be depending on that, which will mean more people knocking on the producers' door. That could mean more power for beef farmers and ranchers.
Benefits for all producers
"As data sharing opens up, and data is shared in an aggregated way, that should offer new improvements for beef producers of all sizes," says Terry Grajczyk, national manager of The Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+) program.
"The VBP+ program and collaborative discussions of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef can help anchor this new world.
"That's a potential payoff for the investment producers have already made in VBP+."