Innovation contributes to developing sustainability
Research and innovation are core activities of ForFarmers. These activities are the responsibility of the Nutrition Innovation Centre (NIC) of ForFarmers. The most important objective of the NIC is to feed livestock in the most sustainable, healthiest and commercially most profitable manner. In this way, ForFarmers intends to provide its customers with the best (feed) solutions and also contribute to the further sustainability of the feed industry.
Knowledge and innovation are essential to livestock farming in North-Western Europe. As land and labour are more expensive in this part of the world and more stringent animal welfare and environmental constraints apply, livestock farmers in North-Western Europe need to produce more efficiently than elsewhere in order to be able to compete. Given the fact that the improvement potential from the combination of management, genetics, and feed performance in the agricultural sector is annually on average one to two per cent, a player in this sector continuously needs to keep improving in order to remain competitive. This applies to both the individual livestock producer and to ForFarmers. In order to keep offering customers – in line with the ‘Total Feed’ approach – innovative and distinctive feed solutions, ForFarmers invests specifically in research and innovation. Through its feed solutions and advice, ForFarmers supports livestock farmers in realising their business objectives and contributes to a commercially profitable and sustainable food production.
NIC is responsible for feed innovations and the technical performance of the feed products of ForFarmers. Feed, or everything related to feed, is therefore a potential research subject. In addition, the NIC provides support on nutrition to the Sales teams. For instance, at the request of Sales personnel the NIC can offer additional support to customers who have complex feed and business operations issues and it ensures that the technical knowledge of the specialists is maintained at the appropriate level. The department, which is organised centrally, has a team of nutritionists and innovation managers for each sector. The NIC-team, that works in the different countries, is in close contact with the Sales organisation and thus stay in touch with daily practices. In addition, the department maintains close contact with strategic partners.
The NIC conducts its own research and cooperates with research institutes like Schothorst Feed Research (the Netherlands), ILVO (Belgium), Haus Riswick and Haus Düsse (Germany), and renowned universities in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. ForFarmers is actively involved in various research programmes in which multiple companies and organisations cooperate.
An example is ‘Feed4Foodure’, a public-private partnership between the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Wageningen University & Research Centre (WUR) and a consortium of various parties from the feed industry and the animal production chain. Feed4Foodure has the ambition of making a substantial contribution to sustainable and healthy livestock farming in the Netherlands and to thus strengthen the Dutch competitive position in a global market. To this end, it focuses on three research areas: feed efficiency, socially responsible animal husbandry and animal health. In the United Kingdom a similar initiative is starting under the name ‘CIEL’ (Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Livestock) and ForFarmers is also closely involved in this.
Via co-innovation and co-creation with various international companies, ForFarmers develops new products in a swift and effective manner. With Nutreco, ForFarmers has a strategic partnership of research and knowledge-exchange in the area of specialties such as young animal feed. In addition, ForFarmers has a partnership with Agrifirm for purchasing and knowledge exchange in the area of arable, farming products in the Netherlands. Even though questions and indications from customers may give rise to research, the challenge for ForFarmers is to be ahead of these questions by anticipating trends and developments in the market and in society. For instance, the growing demand for soy-free feed for laying hens or the preference for slower growing broiler breeds. To this end ForFarmers participates in relevant consultative structures and working groups across the industry. It engages with government and industry organisations, and has contact with non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Healthy animals, feed efficiency and the reduction in the use of medicines, in particular antibiotics, are and remain important themes in the agricultural sector and therefore also for the NIC when developing new feed. In addition the NIC centres on further sustainability of the ForFarmers products and farms. The improvement of the performance of the feed – for instance in terms of animal growth, feed efficiency and nitrogen and phosphate efficiency – is therefore a continuous point for attention. The research regarding, for example, alternative protein sources and possibilities for soy-free recipes can therefore also be seen in this light. Apart from this, a good balance between feed costs, animal performance and animal health continues to have a high priority. All ForFarmers feed is based on a feed evaluation system developed in-house. This describes the nutritional value of the component raw materials and indicates to what extent they are available to the animal. A pig digests a certain nutrient quite differently than a cow. The age of an animal is also important- a younger animal has a less developed digestive system and can consequently use certain nutrients less efficiently than a mature animal. The feed evaluation system also takes into account what animals need in each life phase in order to grow and be healthy. The system combines these needs with the available raw materials in order to give the animal the nutrients that it needs in the most (cost) efficient manner. Knowledge of nutrients and the digestion thereof is constantly under development. ForFarmers therefore continuously invests in the maintenance and the further expansion of the feed evaluation system.
In line with theTotal Feed approach, ForFarmers delivers the required nutrients in many forms: complete compound feed, additional products, wet co-products or mineral mixes. The best feed solution can differ per country and even per customer, under the influence of genetics and housing (for instance pigs that are kept outdoors in the United Kingdom). The nutritional matrix that ForFarmers uses for its feed solutions is, however, the same for all countries.