VIDEO: How net-zero food production will affect feed

Watch DSM's David Nickell break down how agrifood's net-zero targets will affect feed producers and how it's an opportunity for the sector.

Downstream pressure increasingly prompts feed industry to measure, improve its environmental footprint

The agrifood industry’s net-zero targets will influence how feed producers source, manufacturer and formulate their products, but it can be an opportunity for the sector.

Dr. David Nickell, DSM Animal Nutrition & Health‘s vice president of sustainability and business solutions, joins the Chat to explore what it will take for the feed industry to deliver on the environmental footprint reductions its downstream customers demand.

Transcript: Feed Strategy Chat featuring Dr. David Nickell, vice president of sustainability and business solutions, DSM Animal Nutrition and Health

Jackie Roembke, editor in chief, WATT Feed brands/Feed StrategyHello everyone and welcome to Feed Strategy Chat. I am your host, Jackie Roembke, editor in chief of WATT Feed brands and Feed Strategy magazine.

This edition of Feed Strategy Chat is brought to you by WATT Global Media and is your source for the latest news and leading-edge analysis of the global animal feed industry.

Today we’re joined by David Nickell, vice president of sustainability and business solutions with DSM Animal Nutrition and Health. He is here to talk about the feed industry’s role in achieving net zero.

Hi, David, how are you today?

David Nickell, vice president of sustainability and business solutions with DSM Animal Nutrition and Health: Very well. Thanks, Jackie. Thanks for the invitation.

Roembke: Absolutely. Thanks for being here. Great. Well, let’s get right into it. So what are we talking about exactly when we are discussing achieving net zero in food production?

Nickell: A great question, Jackie. And there’s a lot of focus, of course, on decarbonizing value chains, right? And getting to net zero is what many in the value chains are looking at, and making commitments across the different species in the food value chain. This is about reducing your footprint from where you are today down to zero. And that means taking practical actions, implicating change in your production process, making changes that are measurable, tangible change, and getting yourself as close to net zero as possible.

Often, you’ll find that, in that reduction process, you can get so far right, your actions will help you get down substantially in many cases. But you’ll still find that to get yourself right down to the zero point, you’ll probably have to go and buy offsets, credible offsets, to achieve net zero. That’s essentially the journey that many of the animal protein industries are on and have set out their roadmaps to getting there. That involves multiple technologies to achieve that.

Roembke: Very good. Aside from the ethics of environmental stewardship, can you please delve into the other external pressures that will increasingly prompt upstream agrifood stakeholders, such as feed producers, to invest in measuring and reducing their footprint?

Nickell: You’ve got to look at this from a complete value chain perspective.

There are significant commitments made by the downstream chain in terms of carbon footprint reduction, often captured by the science-based targets initiative. So a lot of the retail chains have signed up to that. And when you look at from a retailer perspective, and we talked about Scope 3 emissions, these all the carbon emissions coming from their upstream supply chain, then about 90% of their carbon emissions coming from animal production are coming from basically up from the farm — that’s really important, that means that you have to address carbon reduction at that point in the value chain.

The feed industry plays an enormous role in that — 90% of Scope 3 emissions for the retailers and foodservice. Nutrition plays a very big role. Up to 50 to 80%, depending on species is related to nutrition. And that’s the feed: what goes into the feed, how that feed is utilized by the animal and what ends up in the manure.

Now, we talked about the retailers, but also you’ve got the finance industry as well looking and assessing the industry trying to reduce their climate-related risk on their balance sheet. This means understanding the footprint of animal production so their clients can reduce their footprint, i.e. what plans do they have in place.

You also start to see the insurance companies looking into this risk, climate-related risk: What are they prepared to underwrite going forward? There are a number of actors around the value chain, and in the value chain, they’re very focused on reducing the footprint. As I said, a lot of that is the pull from the downstream chain. And that means that the upstream chain having to make changes to feed formulations, improving productivity on farm, etc.

Roembke: Thank you for that insight. How will data collection allow the feed industry to achieve these goals? And what does that look like in practice?

Nickell: It’s all about data. Of course, it is about accurate, credible and transparent data collection — and that’s really the name of the game. So that means understanding the footprint of the ingredients going into the feed. This means building up more data around all of those feed ingredients how, for example, corn has grown in one part of the world versus another part or even down to county level. It can be different and that can have a significant impact on the footprint of feed.

It’s very important that the industry gets access to better and better data. It’s also important that the flow of data is a credible flow of data, OK, that is transparent and auditable and the calculations of footprint are ISO compliant. And by doing that, then you you start to unlock the value of sustainability.

Then you have compliant data that is acceptable to the finance community to labeling schemes, how you will be reporting to your investors, etc. So data is really, really important.

Roembke: What role will feed additives, both old and new technologies, play in this process?

Nickell: I think it’s a really good question because what we’re seeing is the functional nutrition getting more out of this, which really comes into play and that’s very much the space of feed additives. The greater use of, for example, technologies in the area of feed enzymes, being able to reduce perhaps the the protein content of the feed, making that protein in the feed more digestible, at the same time, improving the absorptive capacity of the guts, through the wide selection of new eubiotics available in the market. So retaining more nutrition in the animal which, in itself, of course, changes the chemistry of the manure and the impact manure has on the environment.

Feed additives really do bring an array of functionality to the industry to help the industry on the net-zero reduction plans.

Roembke: Excellent. And for feed companies that are beginning this journey, or looking into this type of analysis, where do they start? And how do they measure the success of their efforts?

Nickell: Yeah, it’s a great question. And I think there’s a lot of very progressive companies out there who are doing a great job.

Often I hear companies saying, “Look, we believe we’re doing a great job, OK, we simply don’t quite know enough, I need to get down into the detail.” It’s really then baselining, the business understanding what is your base footprint, that’s really important. By understanding that, then you can then take real ownership of your environmental footprint. You get to see which farms in your business are actually doing quite well, where others need more attention, where is best practice, where you should invest more or less, etc.

So really, it’s getting down into the data and that means full life-cycle analysis. And there are numerous providers out there who can help customers with that. But I think it’s important to say, although we talked about decarbonization, it’s more than the carbon story. Of course, there’s other impacts from animal production. And that means taking on full life-cycle analysis. Really understanding in all dimensions, which is about 16 to 19 dimensions, to look at, and that then really gives full insights to businesses on where they are and what their status is.

What we typically talk about is making the invisible visible, so through data, understanding what’s going on, once you have that in front of you, you understand your baseline, know which actions to take. Through those actions, you can start to unlock that value from sustainability.

Roembke: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for that excellent set of insights. And for the audience, if you would like more information, David’s presentation at the recent Feed Congress at VIV Europe will be posted in the coming weeks. Please keep an eye out for that. And again, thanks to you, David. And thanks, everybody, for tuning in.

Nickell: Thanks, Jackie.