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IFEEDER works toward a better animal feed industry [PODCAST]

Solving sustainability, ASF and mastering nutrition is too much for any single stakeholder

Steven Kilger 2 Headshot


Steven Kilger (00:00) Hello everyone, my name is Steven Kilger. And this is the Feed & Grain Podcast.

First off, thank you so much for listening. Here on the Feed & Grain Podcast, we chat with stakeholders in the feed manufacturing and grain handling industries about the industry itself, hopefully mimicking something you might find on a trade show floor if you were to chat with them.

Today, our topic is the Institute of Feed Education and Research, better known as IFEEDER. My guests will be Lara Moody, executive director of IFEEDER and Steve Lerner works at Chr. Hansen Animal Health and Nutrition and is on the board of IFEEDER. We're here talk about why the feed industry has a charity, and what they're working on now. And also some ways industry members can help them out.

One last bit of housekeeping, if you have a topic or guests you would think would be good on the podcast, let me know. We have a submission button on the Feed & Grain podcast page where you can send me your ideas, and your guest recommendations, or just reach out and let me know how it's going. I look forward to hearing from you. Now, let's get into my chat with Lara and Steve.

Well, thank you so much, Laura and Steve, for joining me today. I really appreciate it. I'm really eager to hear about what IFEEDER has kind of going on and what's happening in the future. I've been in the industry for eight years now, and I've covered IFEEDER in every one of them. So, I'm happy to learn what's going on. Would you mind telling me a bit about yourselves and how you ended up being involved in IFEEDER and in the feed industry in general?

Lara Moody (01:27) So Steve, thanks so much for having us on and helping us spread the word about what IFEEDER is trying to accomplish.

I joined IFEEDER just about a year ago now actually over a year ago. Now, I previously spent time working for the fertilizer industry, which has a lot of similarities in some ways to the feed industry given the commoditization of products and some of the proprietary elements of products. But prior to that, I'm actually an engineer by training and livestock is in my blood to start with not only am I a horse owner, but I also spent a lot of time doing manure management. So, I spent time in the university system doing research and extension around manure management and nutrient management. And so now here I am at IFEEDER in really enjoyed getting to know the feed industry in the last year.

Steve Lerner (02:11) Very happy to be here. Steven, I've been happy to say involved in animal agriculture for 40 years now and counting classically trained as an animal scientist and started on an academic career path as a university professor in 1993. I left the good side the join the dark side and went to work for Merck Ag Vet, stayed with them through the transition to Marielle for 20 years, and then moved into an area of probiotics for production animals, which falls smack into the feed industry and I believe that is one of the greatest future opportunities to improve the efficiency of agriculture by looking at these new biological additives.

Kilger (3:01) Yeah, there's a lot of exciting progress on that front. We'll have to talk to you another time in another podcast about that part of the industry. Then Laura I mean, you went from fertilizer plant trained and horse manure fertilizer to at least a slightly less thinking industry and even though some of those feed mills in the south during the summer they get late ripe.

Moody (03:23) Well trust me I've been using my new feed contacts to help me with my own competition dressage horses’ feed intake. So, I've been using my new position to gather insights.

Kilger (03:34) Well, that’s actively participating, actively supporting the industry as well. That's always great. Can you tell me a little bit of IFEEDER and for the people who are listening that might not know much about you, your kind of history mission, and most importantly, why it's essential for the feed industry to have an association like this an organization like this

Moody (03:52) IFEEDER was started in 2009. By the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA.) IFEEDER we should probably spell it out for folks, is the Institute for Feed Education and Research. So, we are the research and education foundation for the US feed industry and IFEEDER was established as a way to take on some of the opportunities and issues that the feed industry had outside of the policy and regulatory and trade space that AFIA had traditionally worked in.

We just spent the last year putting a strategic plan in place for IFEEDER and revising our mission statement. So, our mission statement right now is to advance understanding and trust and a sustainable feed and pet food supply chain through timely research and education. And for us, that's not only a focus on research, as you might think about traditional academic research, like Steve and I were doing when we were in the university systems, but also research that helps us bring together stakeholder needs and identify the gaps in data flow or quantification methodologies for different metrics and indicators, specifically in the food supply chain sustainability space right now as is relevant to feed.

So, an expanded scope of what research means not your traditional academic research that we're talking about here. But really figuring out what gaps we need to fill and what IFEEDER or can do to support advancing the industry sustainability efforts. And I'd like to toss it to Steve and let him talk a little bit about the value of an entity like a feeder to the industry.

Lerner (05:28) Yeah, Steven, you asked about why it's essential for our industry to have an organization like this. And as our defined IFEEDER, perhaps it's very worth talking about what we mean when we say the animal feed industry, it might imply that it's an entity, but in fact, it's hundreds of entities from the very large feed and grain and ingredient suppliers to the very small local feed mills, all of these hundreds, maybe even 1000s of entities are involved in animal feed, delivery and supply.

And there are many issues that face this industry from consumer demands and consumer concerns to just supply chain concerns. And it's absolutely essential as a collective industry to have the needs addressed centrally, where not one organization would ever have the funding or desire to drive that kind of education or those particular research areas that are good for the collective.

So IFEEDER provides that forum, an organization where the key consumer concerns and demands can be evaluated education programs can be put into place to ensure that our members have good messaging. And then central research that we can speak about at length provides an opportunity for those who could not do it themselves or would not do it as a collective to benefit from something for the industry based on the efforts of a buy feeder.

Kilger (07:11) That's a good point. We're stronger together than we aren't separate. Right? And it would be impossible for a lot of feed companies even consider doing research like this. So that's a really good point. Well, the reason we're, we're all here, as you guys just had your Board of Trustees Meeting, and you discussed the main thing was your discussion was broadening awareness of the value of these research and education initiatives. Can you tell us what you talked about? Or is it all behind closed doors, a big secret, can you?

Moody (07:40) Yeah, not a big secret, we're actually, as you noted in the discussion, we recognize there's a significant need to broaden the awareness of IFEEDER. We have even limited awareness of IFEEDER within the Animal Feed Industry Association's membership. There are a lot of folks that maybe are confused about the missions for AFIA versus the mission for IFEEDER.

And so, we just see this significant opportunity to get a broader reach and knowledge not only within the feed sector but also to our allied stakeholder organizations that are doing work that we're feed is relevant. Just as an example, if you're thinking about something like the US Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, and there are new sets of goals and targets that they're working on to achieve in the next 10 to 15 to 20 years. Some of those elements are clearly linked back to feed, while feed may not be called out within one of their targets or pathways to achieve that target. It's clearly an element of achieving their desired outcome.

And so, we want to make sure that for all of our stakeholders where we can be a resource to them that we can do that I mentioned our strategic plan and the fact that we kind of renewed our mission statement. And so, within that, we also identified some goals for IFEEDER, one of those goals is being a resource that's utilized and recognized as a key point of information, especially in the sustainability space, but others as well, for not only the feed sector but again for our kind of peer organizations. It could be a Tyson or it could be the National Pork Board, right. It could be the National Grain and Feed Association. Or with AFIA using our information or it could be specific entities within that.

So, number one really is a recognized and utilized resource by the industry in the sustainability space. Our second goal is to have research outcomes and form and support a sustainable feed and pet food supply chain. So, our starting place for that and we'll talk about this, some I'm sure is figuring out where our priorities need to be in that sustainability research and outreach space. That's the second goal. The third goal then is to use that brand recognition and awareness of IFEEDER, to diversify our funding sources.

There's a lot of work that needs to be done in this space, the feed industry certainly will benefit from the work that we're doing, but our other stakeholders will benefit from the work we're doing as well. And so how can we bring in additional funders to support the work that we're trying to do? How do we diversify those find partnerships, not only getting money from corporate entities or other associations but also going after, you know, federal agency grant dollars in which we've done. So I think finding those opportunities are all a part of us fulfilling our strategic plan. And so, I would, you know, those are my thoughts. But Steve, as an industry member who has to engage with these different stakeholders, and some of these peer groups, I'm sure he has thoughts on where we serve a role as well for those entities

Lerner (10:53) If you listen to Lara and I followed the development of such a brilliant strategic plan, but then I put on my marketing hat, how do we as the IFEEDER Board of Trustees actually create awareness and interest and a what's in it for me among our stakeholders to actually contribute to such a great plan. And that is where this whole idea of marketing comes into play. We garner funding to do research, we garner funding for education products, but we don't think about the millions of dollars we should ask for to market IFEEDER into the space. That’d be an inappropriate ask quite truthfully.

So, we utilize our membership within our IFEEDER and in the broader AFIA a group to hopefully be our missionaries into the marketplace to drive awareness of our efforts and to garner support for these initiatives that positively demonstrably will benefit not only the industry, but all the associated industries, within the animal food space, and animal production space. It is simply good for agriculture, and all those involved in agriculture should be willing to contribute to their mutual benefit, it would make everything easier to do going forward with a clear structure for how to get things done. And IFEEDER is central to that. So, it's about getting the good word out. I guess in a nutshell,

Kilger (12:35) Feed is such a huge factor in agriculture, I mean, producers get all the glory and the credit, right? They're the guys out there in the field with soybeans and there they are with the cow. But feed is one of the biggest determining factors in any of that.

So, it's really nice to hear you guys say how important it is to get that message out. And we talked about you talked a little bit about sustainability, which year this year, I went to IPPE, where AFIA hosts their annual convention as part of that show. and sustainability, man, it became the word in everybody's mouth. And so, your sustainability roadmap is really interesting to me. Because I mean, that is going to be the next big challenge for the industry as a whole right? Explaining what we're doing to make the environmental impact to feed the less and to make sure our industry goes. So how is the sustainability roadmap? Can you tell me a little bit about how that got started and how it's developing now?

Moody (13:36) So, the sustainability roadmap is really the cornerstone piece for IFEEDER right now, relative to our sustainability efforts. So, there are certainly other things underway. I think one of the things about feed in the sustainability space, especially within the food supply chain is that feed flew under the radar for a long time, the brunt of influence or pressure is just where you were talking about. It's on the producer side, it's on the soybean corn crop feedstuffs production side, and it's on the live animal production side.

And I think what's so challenging about sustainability in the feed sector is we sit in between those two, and those downstream companies like a Starbucks or McDonald's or a Nestle that ultimately want and need the information flow, relevant the feed, it has to flow through us. And we have to get the information from someplace else and then add our piece to it and then send it on down the line the feed sustainability Meyer or MCC or swamp, I don't know what to call it, but it's a confusing space. Right. And there are folks that have tried to touch it at different times and to involve it and to get an effort underway. Companies have certainly done pilots relevant to feed, but I think there are challenges there are complexities in the space. It's not an easy place to work.

The first thing we did in our system The ability roadmap effort was just like laying out the stakeholder map, like who are all of the influencers? Who's upstream of us? Who's downstream of us? Who do we have to pay attention to? Who do we even call the feed sector? Who are the elements within the feed sector? And so, in doing that, then we started identifying through research.

And by research, I mean, doing the entity that we've worked with doing a lot of online investigation, like going and exploring all the different corporate sustainability reports that are out there, how people are defining sustainability online, what kind of goals and targets are out there? What indicators and metrics are they using? So what are the points that they want to prioritize relative to the materiality of those issues?

For them, we've pulled together a set of metrics that are relevant to people or societal planet, i.e. the environment, and then governance, we're currently doing a survey actually, for members. So timing is good for this podcast to go out. Right now the survey is open to industry members, we really want to get broader input on those indicators we've identified relative to the importance of those indicators for them, and the issues that they have within their organizations again, so that we can start to prioritize and decide which ones we're going to tackle first, or which ones we need to make more prevalent, but then the survey is going to go to a broader group of stakeholders.

So anytime you do a materiality assessment, you want to look at not only internally what those issues are but also look externally. And so, we're going to be going out later this month with a call for survey participants to help us in that materiality assessment. So, we hope to roll the roadmap out in September, it won't be the final one. But it'll be the first time that we put something out there for folks to react to. And we're going to be doing that in our Feed System Sustainability Summit, the Feed System Sustainability Summit, is going to be an invitation-only kind of workshop where we really are going to be sitting down with folks who are working within not only the feed sector, but our stakeholders up and down the value chain to identify what we need to catalyze action in this space.

So what's needed to move the needle relative to circularity in the feed sector, innovation, regenerative sourcing, talking about things that we do relative to feed sauce production, and then responsible sourcing, which is, of course, important to our downstream folks. And so in that space, we're going to be bringing those folks together, we're going to kick it off with some webinar series this summer. So we'll have more information coming out about that. But it just so happens, we've also got a call out for sponsorships. And we've got our location host actually on the call with us. So I don't know, Steve, maybe you want to say a little bit about why you see value in the summit relative to our sustainability efforts.

Lerner (17:53) As Steven said, sustainability is on everyone's mind, I wish there was a beautiful, clear, concise definition of what everyone meant by sustainability. In my simple mind, we must do something that enables us to feed the eight to 10 billion people that will be among us by 2050. And to do that in a manner that enables us to sustain not only the planet, but the people on the planet going forward.

Christian Hansen, the company that I work for, has been identified for the last four years as the most sustainable biotech company in the world. In fact, Christian Hanson has been around for 147 years involved in sustainability, like converting milk into cheese, which was the first effort back in 1874. It's a sustainable practice because you're preserving the nutrients and milk.

Today, I'm involved in the production of probiotics for animals that improves their capacity of them to efficiently convert feed into the body. And the more carbon and hydrogen you convert to animal, the less methane you put back out into the air. It's a very sustainable notion. So when speaking to the powers that be at Christian Hanson, it seemed only logical and a great choice for us to be the host of this summit, where these topics and others around sustainability measures can be discussed by the experts, and then disseminated back into our industry to the benefit for all it simply was the right choice for us.

Moody (19:41) And I should say, I was remiss in saying this in the beginning, but partnerships are really important for us. And so not only are the sponsors, we're looking for great partners, but we're also working with the World Wildlife Fund. They bring a different perspective. They bring a different set of stakeholder engagements, but they're very invested and interested in advancing the sustainable feed space, not only through the regenerative ag work they do on feedstuff production, but also in advancing and catalyzing our desired outcome relative to feed and in the food supply chain. We're looking forward to that summit and working with World Wildlife Fund on that effort.

Kilger (20:20) Yeah, that's great. And it's good to hear you're working with groups like the World Wildlife Fund, because, well, it's always been, feed hasn't always been the best at telling our own story. And as we all know, if you don't, especially in this modern day age, people are going to tell it for you. And it probably won't be the version you like, especially with, let's face it 99.9% of the US population having no idea about anything in the feed manufacturing industry. So, I really am happy that you guys are doing that. And let, of course come back when you launch your program in the September.

Kilger (21:02) Yeah, definitely. Please do. And just for everyone to know, all IFEEDER's website and everything will be linked down in the show notes. So you'll be able to go down there and click on it right away and get more involved that sustainability. What kind of other projects or initiatives is it working on at the moment?

Moody (21:20) Yeah, we've got several other projects underway. It's handy. We've got Steve on with us as well. He actually chairs IFEEDER's Research Committee. That's one of the reasons I wanted him to come on. So, we can help talk about some of the projects. And I think just briefly, I'll touch on a couple of them. I'll pass it to Steve.

One of the projects that we got funded last year was a joint collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, and DMI so Dairy Management Inc. in that effort, we're looking at strategies and additives to reduce enteric methane on dairies. And so we were looking at a pilot, but then also IFEEDER's piece is doing an economic assessment of the use of those additives and strategies such that we can help USDA inform some of their incentive programs to support use of those on the farm.

We also have been a longtime supporter of the The Clarity and Leadership for Environmental Awareness and Research (CLEAR) Center. And the CLEAR Center is based at UC Davis. And they do the kind of work that intersects with animals in the environment and work with stakeholders to understand the complexities in more layman's terms, right for some of the big issues that we have for the day.

And then we also support the Miami or the North American Meat Institute's Protein Pact. Those are two ways that we're able to do some of our messaging to consumers without a feeder having to directly carry that lift because it is so important that we reach that broader audience. But then we have some other projects that maybe you wouldn't drop right into the sustainability bucket. I'll let Steve talk a little bit about some of those.

Lerner (22:47) The first one I'd love to mention is the African Swine Fever decontamination study. As you may appreciate, it's extremely important for us here in the US to prevent the entry of African Swine Fever Virus into US feed mills. Because once that virus is in a mill, it will remain in the environment for a long period of time and pose a tremendous risk. So, IFEEDER and other industry partners are providing funding to the Swine Health Information Center, who organized the study to evaluate methods for cleaning, and for disinfecting feed manufacturing facilities.

This project was determined to find optimal methods for disinfecting feed manufacturing equipment that was not designed to be disinfected and as you can imagine, we don't ever do testing with the actual African Swine Fever Virus itself. Instead, they use three different surrogates Seneca virus A and then the purse virus and the PDD virus which will allow us to determine the efficacy of meaning this infection if for whatever to come to prevent risks.

That's the first the other project I'd like to speak about is one that seems mundane. It's the nutrient requirements update to the NRC recommendations for spying feeding. But we can all appreciate that the better you understand the true nutrient requirements of today's production animals, in this case, swine. It gives you a great opportunity to improve feed efficiency to reduce the cost of feed and certainly have a positive impact on profitability and visits. These are the big drivers part of the Mara sustainability message around feed efficiency.

So, the NRC requirements were last updated in 2012. And the new effort is to reengage and have a standard set of recommendations for the formulation of commercial and research diets for swine here in the US. And this is done alongside the National Pork Board, The United Soybean Board and the Corn Growers Association. The question that will help us be involved in this project, we're still looking for funding. So if any listeners want to contribute, please contact Lara, she'd be happy to arrange that opportunity.

Moody (25:13) Steve, the big takeaway for us is we carry out this important work on these projects, oftentimes in partnerships, right, we don't do any of this on our own. And there are a lot of groups out there to work with that are pursuing areas in the same space. And so we love being able to partner with a variety of different organizations.

Lerner (25:32) If I can just add, it comes back to the initial reason for supporting IFEEDER, is these two projects would never be done by any individual industry ally or member, it would have to be done by a group like ours that would do something to benefit the collective. And of course, we involve partners for the funding and the broad base that are opportunity, the opportunity represented.

Kilger (25:58) Exactly, and also the partnerships shows once again, how connected we are really to the industry and how important the feed section is. The other players with things like the African swine fever, that's something that so far we haven't had any real, we haven't had issues within the U.S. But if it happens, we need to know what to do, or that's gonna …

Lerner (26:20) Be touching wood when you say that, Steven, you know,

Kilger (26:23) It’s so important to have that kind of research that you want to be able to do on your own university wouldn't be able to do on their own. And it's those kinds of things are, like you said, the reason that something like IFEEDER is really important for us, IFEEDERs important for us. So speaking of IFEEDER’s future being kind of important, you guys just got new board leadership and trustees. What's the hot goss about them? What can you tell me about these new members?

Moody (26:50) We try and keep diversity on the feeder board across the industry sectors so that we have all the different groups represented. And we never turn over the whole board at one time. So we just brought on board new board members, one being our new chairman. And so we actually end up with the past chair of AFIA always becoming the chair of IFEEDER in that way. We have some continuity through IFEEDER, Mike Schuster, who is the vice president of sales at Leydig is coming on to be the chair. He has been a longtime supporter of IFEEDER because of his work with the equipment manufacturing committee for AFA we support a scholarship fund for them. We both combined together have about $21,000 Go out to support seven scholarships across the US annually. And so he's been a longtime supporter of IFEEDER. But we also again, with an eye towards diversity, we're bringing on Scott Levin from he's the vice president of feed at ag state out of Iowa.

So it's nice to have somebody who's kind of closer to the boots on the ground relative to the sales of feed, you know, going out to support our producers. Paul Phillips is the president of Maxilift and Southwest Agriplastics, again, bringing in somebody from the manufacturing and production side equipment, manufacturing production sides, great to have him on, he was a board member for a feud or when it first got started. So he knows a little bit about our history. And he's somebody who has a real passion for it feeders, so we're glad to have him coming back onto the board. And then just le Santos been she is the head of sales management for animal nutrition at BASF. North America BASF, a huge player in the sustainability space across all of production agriculture, I just saw a note out today where they're the first ag company to have carbon footprint for every single one of their products.

So it's great given that that's IFEEDER's sustainability is kind of our focus area, it's great to have somebody like just LA who comes with that knowledge base into the board as well. That's the new board well for newest members to the board. And we meet three to four times a year. And I tap into these guys for various things throughout the year, like reaching out to Steve to join me today, which has been great.

Kilger 28:57

Yeah. And I'm happy that Steve was able to come join us. For part because I'm just always happy to see you another Steve is we're our own little club. Once again, just so much important things that I Peter is doing. And we mentioned a few ways to get involved. Obviously, you could fund that research if you wanted to. If you have some extra cash in your pocket, you go ahead and just fund all that. But also the survey coming up and watch other things. And what other ways can members of the industry get involved with a feeder? What can they do to help out?

Moody 29:30

one of the greatest things that we can have people do is just help us carry the message to help us share who IFEEDER is if you don't know it, go visit IFEEDER learn our mission statement. See some of the types of projects that we're doing and be a messenger for us. Right? That's really important when project opportunities come up when you're meeting with a group of stakeholders and they have an idea for something that you think is beneficial. Remember I Peter put us in there as a partner. Introduce us in to some of those conversations as we look to broaden the awareness of other stakeholders, and in fact, we have members that are doing that. But that's really an important way. Word of mouth is huge when you're thinking about trying to build a brand or an organization. And of course, you can always donate, right?

So I figured out org, individual donations are always welcome. I will put my email out there, it's [email protected]. You can always reach out and contact me if you want to learn more about any of the projects that we have underway. What kind of funding needs we have for all of those projects, I'd love to talk to you. We're always taking in general funds, general contributions, if you just want to make a general corporate contribution, those are important to us as well, like I mentioned, you know, for example, we use those dollars to help fund the scholarships, right that we have at seven universities across the US lots of opportunities. If you're expressly interested in any one of those again, reach out, learn more, I'd love to talk with you.

Kilger 30:57

That's great advice. I would encourage anyone in the industry to get involved. It's something that support the industry, right. It's helping to support you. So we got involved with AFIA and all those great organizations that are really there just to help you. Well, thank you so much, Laura.

Moody 31:23

Thank you so much, Steve, for taking the time to talk to me today. It was great chatting, and hopefully we can catch up again in a couple months about everything else that I figure is going on. We'd love to give you a download after the summit.

Kilger 31:27

Well, thank you. Thanks for listening, everyone and we will talk to you soon.

Lara Moody, executive director of IFEEDER and Steve Lerner, IFEEDER board member, stop by to chat about the charity and its mission. Everything from nutrient absorption, African Swine Fever protocols, to sustainability, are on the charity's to-do list this year.

Listen along as we talk about how some problems need to be resolved as an industry, not individual stakeholders. IFEEDER is helping the feed industry grow and better market itself with projects that will effect the industry as a whole.

If you would Like to learn more about IFEEDER: Click here.

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