Shifts in culture are like the plodding advance of a glacier. They’re steady. They’re slow. And they permanently alter the landscape they meet. We may be resistant to the change, but we cannot escape it. We have to operate in the wake of the cultural shift. It’s true for politics. It’s true for demographics. It’s true for how we eat. And if it’s true for all of those, it is true for agriculture, too.
Since the turn of the century, there have been plenty of cultural signals from thought leaders in the food and food-marketing world. From high-end chefs who thrive on changing culinary trends to the almost militant “foodies” who find a way to merge politics and plate, our outlook on food and diet has shifted greatly. People are more skeptical of traditional food suppliers. Consumers have been conditioned to expect information about the source of food. The new sign of quality isn’t what a product has in it, but what it does not have in it.
And as you know, advertisers and marketing mavens are more than willing to pick up a changing trend and make bank. If you can find a noun and claim that food is free from it, you’re on the way to success in modern food marketing.
Combine these factors, and you have that glacial cultural shift in food and agriculture—a constant force of change.
There are consequences. On the livestock side of things, you’ll soon be operating in the new reality of the veterinary feed directive, with its limitations, paperwork and oversight. Over the past several years, the MFA feed team saw this particular cultural shift on the way and quietly researched ways to help producers thrive even as the VFD goes into action.
One result of that effort is MFA Shield Technology. Feeds with Shield Technology employ phytogenic ingredients that are proven to aid in animal health—essential oils, mannan-oligosaccharides and beta-glucans. None of these ingredients require a VFD. Results from producers using Shield Technology feed and minerals have been positive. Livestock health and profit are the goals, but it’s not bad that these feeds are harmonious with the cultural and regulatory shift away from antibiotic use.
There are other ways MFA is navigating changing cultures. If you didn’t get to attend one of MFA’s district meetings last month, you missed an informative presentation from Director of MFA Health Track Operations Mike John. John talked about a new program called PowerCalf. PowerCalf is a multifaceted approach to managing a cow herd. It is, in a way, “precision livestock production,” as John puts it. PowerCalf’s place in the shifting culture of livestock production is twofold. First, it takes advantage of our modern ability to capture and manage data. With that data, beef producers can measure performance on their farm, or against a database of farms like theirs. Results help guide genetic, nutritional and animal health practices, with a goal of more return on investment. John points out to anyone who will listen, “cow performance is the gateway to calf performance.” He also points out that feedlot buyers increasingly factor animal-health programs into their buying decisions.
PowerCalf fits into the cultural shift in attitudes about meat for that very reason. Healthy cows make healthy calves that more often get to market without needing rescue treatments for sickness. That’s the end result for all the technical jargon you see about “fetal programming.”
A secondary way PowerCalf fits with changing consumer preferences is through data management in the sales chain. We’ve talked for years now about consumers being able to see where their meat comes from—a traceable meat supply. That capability brings a host of considerations that won’t appeal to every producer. However, if producers would like to explore that marketing approach, it begins with carefully collected and managed data.