Given the challenges surrounding increases in the global population, the reduction in global poverty and the corresponding increase in animal protein consumption, the urgency to act in the face of climate change and environmental deterioration has never been greater. Thus, the Young Producer Symposium at the the Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) annual symposium in Calgary between July 3-6, 2023, sought to focus on how to make the future better.
“Canadian AG-Tech: Innovation and Investment” presentation
Gentec associate Dawn Trautman of SVG Ventures noted that global drivers such as population growth, climate change, shifting demographics, consumption behaviours, etc. will continue to create demand for innovation in the agrifood sector. Therefore, investment in agtech is a critical catalyst for scaling innovation and supporting continued advancement of the Canadian agrifood industry. Areas of focus for investment include improving productivity, increasing food security, and reducing emissions and environmental impact.
“ON-FARM INNOVATION IN ACTION” PANEL DISCUSSION
One of the highlights of the first day was the Young Producer Symposium panel discussion on On-farm Innovation featuring three young-producer operations taking their products directly to market.
The panel consisted of: Charlotte Wasylik of Chatsworth Farms near Vermillion, Alberta, offering beef, lamb, eggs (chicken, duck, goose), grains and flour, as well as pet food / bones; Jordan Miller of Grandview Farms on Manitoulin Island, Ontario. Their operation centres around a large cow/calf herd and the concept that every product sold is born, raised and fed in a sustainable manner with all feed produced as part of the operation; and Ben Campbell of Grazed Right Ltd located 30 minutes out of Calgary, selling beef, chicken, and eggs.
Ben summed up guiding principles common across all the panelists best: to protect the natural environment (“sustainability”, if you had to pick a word), to provide an “awesome life for our livestock”, and to reconnect people with the land, their food, and nature. Each panelist described how their venture aimed to deliver this while capitalizing on the growing movement towards marketing direct-to-consumer livestock and consumers’ desire for increased transparency, trust, and to know where their food comes from. This approach allows them to bypass traditional middlemen, such as wholesalers and retailers, and offer several benefits – not the least of which is transparency and trust in the quality, freshness, handling, and processing, which then have knock-on effects on approaches to:
Customization and education. Direct sales drive engagement and, in the case of several restaurant customers, the willingness to customize menus (think this Delicious Bits newsletter) to capture value from the entire carcass, to provide specific cuts or provide other unique products.
Branding, marketing, and differentiation. Sometimes around sustainability, efficient farming, animal welfare or unique products while other typical approaches involve farm tours or promoting weekly on-farm egg pickup or delivery (sometimes across considerable distances) to build the relationship to point of a larger beef or meat sale.
All tactics work towards developing a “support local” ethos, which helps to ensure that producers receive a fair price, and encourages local agriculture and a locally-derived food culture. The results have been encouraging, and are viewed by some as evidence of the gradual reshaping of Canadian agriculture to perhaps resemble the European “terroir” model.
In closing, here are some nuggets of wisdom that we took from these young producers as words to live by:
- We market ingredients not products. Our customers don’t want products; they want ingredients to make the food they serve to their families.
- We all eat with our eyes. In our business, photos (and video) are critical. They help the consumer to experience our food before they receive it; and perhaps, most encouraging for other producer-entrepreneurs considering a different approach.
- Done properly, direct-to-consumer allows a degree of profitability to do things that commodity producers never could.
All this echoes some of the discussion back at Gentec with its industry partners. For example, AgSights provides tools that link the animal to the plate including images and QR codes to provide feedback on product experience. As you all know, DNA can provide the connection to help track and also select for the best genetics based on such data.