Indianapolis hosted the Swine Innovation Summit this week. The event was sponsored by the National Pork Boardto lead the discussion on how macro-trends are affecting the swine industry. Livestock tech is often overlooked by entrepreneurs, so here is my summary of the event:

Pork Checkoff 4.0. Any Brudtkuhl from National Pork Board (NPB) began by pointing out that we are now in the beginning of the fourth big agricultural revolution. “Agriculture 4.0” will usher in widespread adoption of big data analytics, artificial intelligence, IoT sensors, robotics and genetic modifications (CRISPR). This coming transformation has driven NPB to adopt a parallel “Checkoff 4.0” strategy. Checkoff 4.0 is built around three converging trends: (1) changing consumer behavior; (2) disruptive business models; and (3) new emerging technologies. 

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Investment in Livestock Tech. John Hartnett and Mareese Keane from SVG Venturesprovided a macro-view of investment in ag tech. Although billions of venture capital (VC) dollars have been flowing into ag tech in the past few years, livestock tech has not been one of the major recipients. That is slowly changing as more VC firms are waking up to the promise of livestock tech.  

Overcoming Manure Challenges. Livestock Water Recycling (LWR) is a company that is developing technologies to address the challenges of manure handling, storage, and application. LWR has developed a treatment system that separates out the components of manure, creating products that can be used as nutrients and potable water. One side-effect of the system is a substantial reduction in odor, as the bacteria that create odor are filtered out of the manure shortly after production. The LWR system is currently being tested on two hog farms in the United States, with promising results. 

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Big Picture Trends. E&Y’s Rob Dongoskiprovided his observations about macro-trends in the livestock industry. Many of these trends are well known to producers, but some are surprising. The modern agricultural industry deals is dealing with a number of paradoxes today. Hunger persists together with record obesity. People want ag production to reduce its carbon footprint while increasing protein production. Although farmers accept scientific consensus on GMOs; many farmers reject scientific consensus on climate change. People continue to leave rural areas to live in cities, but they also want to influence those that decided to stay on the farm. And although we are seeing a desire for local foods, large retailers are taking control of their supply chains, sometimes forcing the opposite result. For example, Costco is building its own poultry supply chain, from the farm to the store. 

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Blockchain.  Raja Ramachandran, CEO of Ripe.io, explained how blockchain is changing food traceability. Ramachandran described blockchain as a “multi-tab spreadsheet,” accessible by multiple parties. At its core, it is a database technology. Ramachandran sees three reasons a supplier would adopt blockchain: (1) to increase food confidence; (2) to build brand identity; and (3) to digitize food business models. Blockchain is not a solution to every food supply problem. But where it works, blockchain provides intelligence about the food supply chain leading to greater efficiencies. 

Startups.  The day ended with five swine-focused ag tech startups being given approximately 5 minutes to pitch their ideas and visions to NPB members. After the pitch, the startup CEOs were peppered with questions from NPB members (who were also hog farmers). The five startups were: Teichos, BinSentry, Swinetech, Hogwash, and ProteoSense. Links to these companies can be found here: Thrive Agrifood

Overall, I thought the first Swine Innovation Summit was a huge success. The audience appeared to be a mix of hog producers, entrepreneurs, and swine integrators. The sessions were informative (not just panels answering softball-lobbed questions). If you missed this year, stay tuned for next year’s event because I have a feeling it will be back.