Feed Bites

The Future of Ag: How Disrupters Can Help Us Think Outside the Box

Written by: Lacie Dotterweich & Victoria Broehm   |   September 8, 2021

Economics, Our role in ag

You see it all the time – claims that meat consumption is drastically dropping in favor of alternatives – but one expert said, it’s just not true.

“Trends have not changed in a long, long time,” said Eric Mittenthal, chief strategy officer at the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), during the American Feed Industry Association’s recent Purchasing and Ingredient Suppliers Conference. However, there is something that has changed. Instead of targeting vegetarians, as plant-based “meat” companies have traditionally done, many are now targeting meat eaters, given that more people are looking for variety in their diets. 

To do this, the alternative companies are employing incorrect marketing assumptions, such as:  

  • plant-based protein always means the food is healthy;  

  • alternatives are better for the environment;  

  • people will choose either/or; and  

  • meat and alternative options can’t coexist.

We already know that the environmental impact of animal agriculture is misrepresented in mainstream media and that the nutrition labels between real meat and fake meat look pretty much the same, but many people have a hard time understanding this given misleading marketing.

“People like to have a black-and-white depiction of the world we live in, but this isn’t black and white at all,” said Mittenthal. “Its not one or the other, there is room for both. Its about marketing them responsibly and accurately.” 

PISC speaker Gregg Doud, a former U.S. ambassador who currently works for Aimpoint Research, said that meat and dairy alternatives are the future and that industry needs to prepare now to share the plate. 

“Folks, the chain is coming in terms of disruption to agriculture,” said Doud. “We need to wrap our head around the fact that traceability, sustainability, all these ‘buzz words’, where is it going, we need to put in time to think about this.” 

He said that our whole agriculture industry has been about efficiency, volume and speed, and now, all of a sudden, we’re talking about individual, customized diets through the use of technology. How can the large and small coexist?  

Temple Grandin, Ph.D., renowned designer of livestock handling facilities and professor, offered her views on the current state of agriculture and could not agree more with this idea that more smaller players could be the future for the agriculture industry. 

“Big is fragile, we saw that during COVID,” said Grandin. She listed the recent cyberattacks on JBS and the Colonial Pipeline as examples of how when big companies are disrupted, it can lead to big consequences, such as supply chain interruptions. 

“People want to build smaller slaughterhouses and do direct sales,” said Grandin. “By distributing the supply chain, you make it more robust, because big is fragile.” She compared this concept to the beer industry and how there is a place for both Budweiser and craft beer breweries in the market. 

When asked her views about the future, Grandin imagined an industry where young farmers are coming into the industry and getting interested in niche concepts, such as putting in huge fields of solar panels raised just high enough to have sheep graze under. She also stressed the need to get away from monoculture and increase crop diversity.  

On a trip to China, she noted the most interesting part of the trip was the drive to where she was going. “I saw 10 different crops being grown in strips on a field, some I recognized and some I didn’t,” said Grandin. “And in Japan, they grow food in highway median strips.” 

We agree with all of these experts – there is room for all types of agriculture (food) production systems both from a farmer or rancher perspective and from a consumer demand perspective.

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