The world’s growing population will demand more food between now and 2050 than was produced during the previous 8,000 years, according to Leo den Hartog, Director of R&D at Nutreco, a global leader in animal nutrition and fish feed.
“The key for the next few decades will be to deliver a new model that balances innovation with sustainability,” he said, as the duck quack ringtone on his mobile phone interrupted our conversation.
That challenge is as immense as the need. Already, animal nutrition accounts for more than half of the cost of raising farmed animals. There is a huge opportunity, too, because on a global level the current animals reach only 60-70% of their full genetic potential with huge differences among countries, and between farms within countries. Output of products like milk in countries with a highly developed industry, such as the U.S. and Netherlands, is five times greater, largely thanks to better feeding and care.
“This relationship is gaining even more importance given the global challenge to significantly reduce the use of antibiotics in feed to combat antimicrobial resistance.”
Think of a farm trough as an innovation incubator.
In 2010, Nutreco introduced MicroBalance, a feed concept that allowed for replacing the fishmeal fed to salmon with vegetable protein sources. (They’re carnivores, and traditionally required 3+ kilograms of other fish to make 1 kilogram of salmon.) Three decades ago salmon feed contained around 40% fishmeal, a scarce raw material. Today, the company offers completely fishmeal-free diets. The technology helped create today’s thriving farmed salmon industry, and is currently being transferred to other aqua species, including shrimp.
Another innovation, called LifeStart, is a piglet and calf nutrition program intended to support early-stage animal development, and thereby yield greater growth and milk yield. Nutreco has created an online platform that allows researchers, farm advisors, and famers themselves to access practical guidelines and the latest thinking on the science behind the program, which is called epigenetics.
“The emerging nutrition model will be customized to animal genomics and geography.”
For instance, areas of the world with high humidity risk molds that create toxins in cereal feeds, thereby necessitating a different nutrition regime than one in, say, North Dakota. Nutreco is also innovating tools to make such decisions, like rapid diagnosis equipment to yield the nutritional content of feed ingredients, or detect mycotoxins in feed raw materials.
The changing model also depends on vision, which means dialogue and education.
“Famers in the Netherlands are using 55% less antibiotics today than in 2009,” Den Hartog said. “It comes from a combination of good nutrition and management, but it started with a decision not to turn to chemicals for answers.”
The company has embraced this mandate through online platforms and real-world conferences for customers and educators. It’s developing geographic-specific programs, such as anti-antibiotics research focused at more sustainable farming in China. It also hosts bi-monthly internal meetings, organized by animal species, to review the latest science and customer needs assessments, and feeds new innovation programs into its pipeline (it has seven research centers around the world, and validation farms in all key countries and regions).
“Everyone in the business has a responsibility to participate in the dialogue and communicate,” Den Hartog added.