Innovative Approaches Needed to Boost Farming Productivity While Meeting Sustainability Goals, Says DSM– INDUSTRY PERSPECTIVES

Source: DSM Animal Nutrition and Health via Feedinfo

Animal agriculture is facing numerous issues that have been impacting its productivity and efficiency. These include feed raw material price increases, energy costs, disease challenges, as well as the need to meet sustainability objectives like reducing its carbon footprint, along with nitrogen emissions and antibiotics use.

Running parallel to this is the need to continually increase output to feed a growing global population. For producers wanting to stay profitable and sustainable, navigating this complex landscape and striking a balance between the long-term goal of increasing productivity and meeting immediate threats to bottom lines is critical.

In this Industry Perspectives, DSM’s Vice President for Animal Nutrition and Health Performance Solutions + Biomin®, Christie Chavis highlights the continued importance of enzymes and other feed additives in addressing these challenges and the significance of the microbiome and gut health in realising productivity goals and answering sustainability commitments.

She also shares where DSM believes further improvements in the value chain could be made to boost productivity and how data and precision farming technologies can complement and drive this initiative.

[Feedinfo] Ms Chavis, in your conversations with clients what are you hearing are the main issues currently hampering or impacting productivity and efficiency in animal agriculture?


Christie Chavis

Vice President for Animal Nutrition and Health
Performance Solutions + Biomin®


[Christie Chavis] When speaking to our clients there are clear productivity challenges they are facing, particularly when it comes to issues like disease and health such as ASF, avian influenza, antibiotic reduction, high raw materials costs, use of alternative feed ingredients and labour. What is concerning is that the industry’s pressure from an inflationary and cost perspective is the main, short-term focus while longer term efforts on sustainability appear to be secondary at the moment. Both disease and cost are unprecedented, yet we need to keep the pressure to improve sustainability while coping with changes in animal diets that also impact livestock productivity. 

Feed enzymes play a critical role in that perspective from both a cost saving and sustainability standpoint. Different types of feed additives can play a role in supporting animal resilience, which helps to support our customers’ efficiency and profitability in the face of these challenges.


[Feedinfo] What has DSM identified as the areas where improvements could be made? Where in the value chain are you seeing opportunities for the industry to further productivity?

[Christie Chavis] Animal nutrition has a major role to play when it comes to driving animal health and performance. There are several key levers that producers can utilise to enhance productivity and reach the animals' full genetic potential. Fulfilling the animals' nutritional requirements is a first foundational step. Trying to make cost savings here can be tricky: if your animals aren't getting all the nutrients they need then they won't perform as well as they could, and they may be more susceptible to disease or reproductive problems. Feed enzymes are valuable tools to support phosphorous nutrition, energy release as well as protein nutrition. DSM offers a full range of cutting-edge feed enzymes solutions which could be combined to best serve our customers’ needs.

Next, you want to look at your raw materials, check for mycotoxins and other anti-nutritional factors, and use feed enzymes to really get the most value from your feed. Then it’s worthwhile to look at eubiotics, from probiotics to acidifiers, phytogenics and microbiome modulators, in order to improve resilience and support animal gut health. Reducing food loss and waste is another lever to improve efficiency. Special nutrients like Hy-D can reduce eggshell breakage by up to 15%, which can have a considerable improvement on business results and as well as sustainability. We offer customers a variety of digital tools, onsite support and analytical services in order to match their goals with the most appropriate nutritional interventions.

Finally, we see an opportunity to improve productivity through enhanced decision making made possible by big data and precision services. Providing producers the ability to anticipate and identify potential issues in their operations will help make food production more efficient than what anyone thought possible.


[Feedinfo] Increasing productivity seems like a longer-term goal compared to more immediate threats to productivity and profitability, like feed raw materials price increases, energy costs, disease challenges. How would you advise navigating this?

[Christie Chavis] Productivity improvement is a day-to-day concern for cost competitiveness, as well as a longer-term focus to feed the growing global population.

When you look at the sustainable development goals, it is clear that the animal protein industry has a role to play in achieving the UN’s “Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger” and the Paris climate agreement objectives. In the next decade, productivity will have to increase nearly three times more than it did in the past decade to meet these goals, according to the most recent FAO-OECD outlook.

My advice is to recognise the urgency of the situation which means we each need to know and measure our starting point. Secondly, we must work closely with the value chain and food system stakeholders and to accelerate innovation. 

A bold, innovative approach is needed to make real impact, and we work closely and partner with our customers to find ways that science can be applied to their most pressing issues. 


[Feedinfo] Adding another layer of complication to all of this is the various sustainability objectives animal ag has been tasked with (emissions reduction, antibiotics reduction, etc.). Where should producers be placing their focus to ensure they remain profitable and sustainable?

[Christie Chavis] There is plenty to navigate when it comes to meeting stakeholders’ demands. Producers need to understand the status quo which is you cannot manage what you do not measure. So, the first step is to establish a baseline measurement, so that you can understand the impact of livestock operations and set goals for improvement. It can be tricky to know where to start, so we always suggest going for the low hanging fruit first. Ultimately, making data-based decisions will lead to more productive, profitable, and sustainable outcomes.


[Feedinfo] How much of the heavy lifting should we realistically expect feed additives to continue doing to improve the efficiency of animal production in the future? Can we unlock more productivity with these tools than we already have? And are we advancing fast enough to meet future protein demand?

[Christie Chavis] As an industry we have a duty to protect and safeguard our resources for the future, and a big part of this comes from responsible and sustainable farming measures.  There is scope for productivity improvement, even in highly efficient systems. The work we have done in the FAO Leap Study highlighted how a set of innovative nutritional interventions was able to improve the performance and sustainability of already efficient Western European-style operations for poultry, swine and dairy—including FCR/yield improvement and 5-10% improvement in environmental impact. My key takeaway from this is that we can make further improvements with the tools we already have available today, so now is the time to start. 


[Feedinfo] Also, there is a lot more focus on the microbiome and gut health in realising productivity goals and answering sustainability commitments. How important has this concept become in DSM’s conversations and recommendations to clients on boosting productivity? Why?

[Christie Chavis] The gut microbiome is incredibly important for animal health, nutrition, and welfare. In the past, the microbiome was considered as a collection of microbes, each playing their separate part in the bigger gut function picture. Through advances and innovations, we now understand the function of these pieces and how they affect or benefit the host and its environment.

Challenges previously masked by AGP use are resurfacing, and this uncovers a poor microbial metabolism which has a significant negative impact on production. However, by approaching the microbiome as an organ, microbial metabolic pathways can be optimised.

Some microbiome protein metabolism pathways are beneficial to the animal as they produce branched and short-chain fatty acids, polyamines and other amino acids which can all be used to improve performance, boost immune function, and control inflammation.

If we can properly modulate microbial protein metabolism to be beneficial, it creates a potential strategy to deliver value in terms of animal resilience and performance. So, promoting beneficial microbiome protein metabolism pathways, and minimising undesirable pathways is key to unlocking higher levels of profitability, welfare, and sustainability.

For example, when protein in the hindgut is repacked into beneficial metabolites it reduces the number of undesirable metabolites like ammonia. In turn this limits the opportunity for pathogen growth improving the animal's resilience to enteric stress. In poultry, when the production of ammonia and hydrogen sulphide radicals is reduced, this improves litter quality which reduces the incidence of contact dermatitis.


[Feedinfo] And how are you framing your discussions around eco-labelling? This is going to require even greater transparency from the entire animal ag value chain than before. What are the positives for the industry here? How does this help rather than hinder productivity?

[Christie Chavis] At DSM we believe the future of the industry relies on clear and credible information on the nutritional and environmental impact of food for the consumer. The end consumer of these products is educated and savvy and want to be able to make the best decisions for themselves and their families. Again, it starts with measurement.  We need to be credible in showing the true environmental footprint of milk, meat, fish and eggs.  Improvements in our food systems can be made to reduce the impact on the environment. We’ve just announced a partnership with Foundation Earth an independent, non-profit organisation issuing front-of-pack environmental scores on food products, to cooperate on eco-labelling of animal proteins using our SustellTM sustainability platform.

As such there is a huge opportunity for producers to unlock market value from being more sustainable and create a race to the top in terms of sustainability. It is up to us as an industry to demonstrate that animal protein products are often the more sustainable food option once you consider the nutrient density that eggs, meat, milk, and seafood deliver.


Published in association with DSM Animal Nutrition and Health