What does sustainability mean to you?
Farmers and ranchers are doing their part to move the needle on sustainability. For Joan Ruskamp, owner and operator of J&S Feedlot, that means evolving from the way her grandparents ran the farm 100 years ago.
“We're focused on the product we're providing, and that's beef, but we're also focused on the welfare of that animal, the quality of the air and the land around us because it overall impacts everyone, and so whenever we can do more using less and still supersede the way we have an impact on the environment, we feel like we're being more sustainable with every tool we have to help us do that.”
However, Dr. Scott Eilert, Customer Technical Lead for Cargill, says consumers often have a different idea about what a sustainable farm looks like.
“Minimal processing of animals that are raised with less technology inputs from a pharmaceutical standpoint, less intensively, maybe longer age on life, longer age on the planet. Those tend to have the images of being a more sustainable supply chain.”
He says producers have to be careful about what comes next, considering technologies like antibiotics and hormones that were intended to increase productivity faced consumer backlash. Dr. Justin Sexten with Zoetis agrees but says genetic improvement is one technology that has more support.
“As we think about the opportunity for brands to make claims around sustainability, genetic improvement is one that very few consumers can object against. It's not an injectable. It's not a hormone. It's not any of those key points that consumers have opposition against, but it's a technology that has been used for generations to make improvements in the supply chain around sustainability.”
He says any new technology on the farm should be integrated into the decision-making process.
“It's ultimately converting all of these data points. Whether it's genetic information, whether it's sensor information, whether it's just the information we're gathering, as we care for the animal every day, at the chute or by the pin, as well as environmental information and feed, all of that comes together as data. But ultimately something has to work to integrate that into decisions at the production level.”
Sexten says it’s also important to translate farm data into product labeling that consumers can understand.