One of the big trends currently taking place in agriculture is vertical integration. More and more large corporations are taking control by creating their own industrial chain all the way from the farm to the factory. With consumer demand for greater provenance and information, companies are looking for ways to control the entire production of food in order to meet that demand, and simultaneously create greater efficiencies within their business.
In particular, within the cattle industry, provenance is becoming increasingly important. Big meat processors such as JBS and Cargill are consolidating the food chain in the Americas while Chinese powerhouses such as Rifa Salutary are integrating with Australian cattle properties. The goal is control. By owning the farm, the transportation, meat packing and sales, companies control every step of the production system. And an increasingly important part of that step is a provenance. As the origin and grazing history of each animal is known and verifiable, quality can be assessed and improved. The trend for greater clearer provenance benefits both industry, government and consumers who are looking for greater levels of transparency and accountability. The advent of blockchain technology in agriculture will only increase the pressure to deliver a clear and controllable journey from paddock to plate.
Agersens’ eShepherd™ animal management system which employs virtual fencing as a means to manage and monitor cattle, can also play a significant part in the demand for greater transparency. Virtual fencing gives beef producers a way to improve control over their stock, increase productivity and profitability and provide more comprehensive data to support a sustainable provenance. There are a number of different areas where virtual fencing will impact this process, from meat quality to animal welfare and even the fashion industry.
The “farm to fork” movement continues to grow as consumers look for assurances that their meat comes from a reputable location with sound animal management practices. Virtual fencing enables beef producers to maximise pasture utilization and feed allocation to provide better quality beef in a sustainable manner. Consumers can check the origins of their food and determine if the the animals were well fed, contented, and raised using the highest levels of animal husbandry. We may see a day when nutritional information on packaged meat will include a check mark for an animal raised within a virtual fence using sustainable grazing methods.
The eShepherd animal management system allows beef producers to demonstrate a high degree of animal health and well being. Better monitoring of the animals’ health, low stress mustering methods and reduced injuries is now possible with virtual fencing. And higher levels of data collection in the eShepherd application will give beef producers a way to provide comprehensive health reports. Consumers can purchase knowing their food is the best it can be – with concrete evidence.
Virtual fencing can also reduce fence injuries from barbed wire and other sharp objects, increasing the value of the hide. In 2013, Gucci launched a new handbag that includes proof of provenance (a “sustainability passport”) with details of the cattle ranch that produced the leather. Fashion houses such as Gucci, Ermenegildo Zegna and others are also vertically integrating and dealing directly with technologically advanced producers to ensure greater quality control, credibility and a point of difference in the marketplace.
The future will see a higher demand for producers to provide a full history of the animal including health, pasture movement, and grazing practices, while demonstrating high animal health and wellbeing each step of the way. eShepherd animal management allows them to create that sustainable high control environment. It then enables better collection of data for producers both large and small to provide clear reporting. This then in turn, reassures their customers and ultimately the consumer, of a transparent and sustainable provenance.