What are producers and investors looking for when it comes to innovation in the livestock sector?
Not always the same thing it would seem.
Speaking at the Agri Innovation Forum in Winnipeg last week, a panel of producers and business leaders discussed where innovation is heading when it comes to animal agriculture and animal health.
“Convenience,” said Bill Price, owner of Global Beef Consultants and Missouri Valley Feeders. “Convenience would be No. 1, and safety to our employees and safety to the cattle.”
As foreign labour becomes a larger part of the agricultural workforce, Price said products need to be easy to use and simple to understand for those with English as an additional language.
The business owner and rancher also said that as North American-owned and -operated livestock production expands overseas, veterinary practices here will also need to be implemented by individuals working in the overseas operations.
“Here in the United States, we don’t have as big a problem… I think we’re pretty well educated as producers. But in the global markets they are not, they are not used to the vaccines, they’re not used to antibiotics; they think you can give it a shot and eat it the next day,” Price said. “So we have a concern, and we’re not getting support from… our bigger pharmaceuticals.”
Consolidation of the pharmaceutical companies was a concern for other panel members as well, who said larger companies weren’t always able to react or respond to emerging issues as quickly as smaller operations.
“We’ve sold two of our companies to multinationals. That creates a whole different culture and that can be a challenge, especially to producers, where they’re dealing with something and they want a quick response to it and it’s just not there,” said Randy Simonson, CEO of Grazix Animal Health.
“But there is no question that the multinationals are very important to our industry; they’ve got the market penetration that we need.”
When startups have technology they want to develop or market, it’s often the large multinationals they turn to for assistance, whether that means a sale, partnership, merger or collaboration, Simonson noted.
For those just starting out down the long road of getting new technology to market, Thomas Overbay, a partner at Expedite Animal Health, said it’s important to have an end goal in mind when researching, if you plan to pitch your idea to a larger company, or market it on your own.
“One thing we always advise those people we’re working with, is to start with the end in mind,” Overbay said. “You need to have good science, but at the end of the day who’s going to write the cheque for the project?”
With producers facing pressures to move away from antibiotic use in animal agriculture, particularly as growth promoters, alternatives are presenting researchers, developers and investors with what is possibly the fastest-growing area of opportunity.
“One of the focuses I’ll just mention is non-antibiotic options that can improve performance, in livestock and so we’re investing heavily in the vaccine space, the enzyme space, and probiotics,” said Brent Difley, development manager at Elanco Animal Health.
But startups that approach the company with antibiotic alternatives — or any other product — need to have proof of concept already well in hand before discussions can go any further, he said.
Simonson said he doesn’t think the recent move in the United States to phase out antibiotics as growth promotants will end the use of antibiotics by producers, but he does see alternatives as necessary and profitable areas of development.
“I don’t think it’s going to go away, but at the same time, as we’ve heard… there’s a lot of antibiotic alternatives, that I think are opportunities that I think can address resistance issues, and they also offer broad-spectrum activity, so I think as investors we need to be looking at those more,” he said, adding the more diseases one treatment can protect against, the more efficient.
“The other thing is cost of delivery. It costs a lot to handle each of these individual animals, you’ve got to run them throughout the chutes in the cattle situations, there’s a lot of costs just in that, so looking at technologies that can mass deliver I think is very important,” he said.
Price agreed, adding that efficiency is key to his operations.
However, no matter how cheap or how effective a product is, if the consumer doesn’t accept it, it doesn’t matter, he noted.
“So it’s one of these things where some of the new products are great, but if we don’t watch out for the consumer… if we don’t do a service for the consumer we’re not doing it justice,” he said.