Covid 19 – A Litmus test for agility in agriculture

Businesses that did not understand why agility matters to business success are waking up to just how much it matters in the face of the Covid 19 crisis. This is true for any industry including agriculture.

How do you respond to Covid 19?

Remember what happened to the Titanic in the face of an iceberg? Businesses, industries, governments and individuals all over the world are now tested for how quickly they can adapt to a major disruption and spot the opportunities. Everybody is faced with the same question, “How do we respond to Covid 19?” Individual response and the speed of it will matter to the health and economic outcome of the crisis for each of us, businesses, industries and nations all the same. Nature created the perfect storm to test personal agility levels and those of businesses.

“It is not the strongest that survive – it is the most adaptable to change”- – Charles Darwin

Organizational agility or business agility

Business agility, also known as organizational agility, is the capability of a business to be adaptive and flexible through a changing environment and to overcome challenges as they surface with minimal impact to the business. Times of crisis tells businesses just how agile they are. As change is happening so fast, companies need to be able to do these things very quickly to optimize operations for peak performance, exploit opportunities and mitigate risks. Agility is all about how we as individuals and organizations respond to challenges and at what speed, which will ultimately determine the impact the challenge will have on us and on organizations.

“Research shows that in a volatile and uncertain world agility separates the best from the rest.” – Krupp (2020)

In the current crisis leaders must be highly agile to break free of old mental models and politics or business as usual. They need to be able to learn and adapt fast.  Agile leaders demonstrate four skills in times of crisis: adaptability, resilience, learning, and foresight:

Adaptability – Shifting priorities quickly due to rapidly changing external and internal dynamics
Resilience: Bouncing forward from setbacks and failure
Learning: Testing assumptions, failing fast, and continuously iterating in real time
Foresight: Anticipating and being prepared to pivot with market changes

Agility and adaptability are critical to farming

Farming deals with a lot of uncertainties and changes at its best. Therefore, successful farming relies on the producer’s or farmer’s capacity to respond to changing markets, environmental conditions and consumer preferences. So, the future of farming lies in an agile production system and this has only been exacerbated by the Covid 19 crisis. The most sustainable thing to do is focus on those things over which a farm has direct control. Of those the most critical is agility, which enables the producer to continuously adjust what he does to take advantage of external factors or at least reduce the potential negative impact on the business.

Our food production system needs resilience in the face of a volatile trade environment and climate change. Again, this is why speed is of the essence and agility matters in agriculture.

Relevant articles

From Blame to gain: Leading with agility in a crisis 
Dairy farming resilience – 3 reasons to keep your cows agile
Keep agile keep farming podcast 
Gut agility activator – Anco FIT product line

Dairy farming resilience – 3 reasons to keep your cows agile

The competitive environment for dairy farming requires farm management strategies for resilient production systems that can recover from or adapt to changes in environmental, social or economic conditions. There is probably no time like the current Covid 19 crisis that proves just how important resilience is for production systems.

Resilience applies to the farm, but also to individual animals. Several research programs in different parts of the world are investigating ways of genetically improving resilience in dairy cows. Resilience in the cow is determined by her adaptive capacity, which is the mechanism of the cow that empowers her to cope with internal or external disturbances, stressors or with changes in the environment.

Here are the top reasons for finding ways to Improve the adaptive capacity In dairy cows or In other words to keep dairy cows agile.

1) Consistent milk productivity and quality

Common stress reactions to stressors in the feed and in the environment, are oxidative stress, inflammation at the cellular level, shifts in rumen efficiency and reduction in feed intake. They will all lead to wasted energy and increased maintenance energy or a reduction in energy intake, which again will have consequences for milk yield and quality. Improving the adaptive capacity of dairy cows, will help to reduce the stress reactions In response to challenges and stressors and hence the Impact they can have on milk production and quality. As a result there are less fluctuations and less deviations from expected milk productivity and quality, which also means a more stable Income from cows.

2) Transition management in dairy farming

The transition period is a demanding time for dairy cows and when they fail to adapt physiologically to the demands of calving and the onset of milk production, the resulting metabolic stress leads to transition cow disorders with negative consequences for milk production, reproduction efficiency and longevity. Improving the adaptive capacity in dairy cows can enable the dairy cow to weather the transition period more successfully.

3) Shortages in qualified labour for dairy farming

One of the biggest pain points of dairy farms today is attracting skilled labour. Farmers are finding it difficult to get people to work on farms. It is even more difficult to source domestic labour and many dairy farmers are relying on foreign workers within their workforce. So the Covid 19 crisis and new immigration laws can exacerbate the shortage in qualified labour on dairy farms. A shortage in skilled labour means that caring for cow health and optimal performance becomes more challenging. One solution to this is to breed and manage for resilient cows that are easier to manage. Feeding for improved adaptive capacity to Increase resilience In dairy cows can make a difference to the amount of care a cow requires and thus to the amount of labour needed on the farm.

Nutritional solutions

New nutritional concepts, such as gut agility activators, are designed to support the adaptive capacity and keep animals agile by nutritional means for improved resilience.

The gut agility activator Anco FIT helps the cow to adapt to nutritional and environmental challenges more efficiently by minimising stress reactions such as oxidative stress and reduced feed intake, that would otherwise impact performance and wellbeing of the cow. Heat stress, transition period and mycotoxins are known factors which normally lead to increased oxidative stress and or a reduction in feed intake.

Keep yourself and your cows agile

The safest bet to keep yourself and your cows in the game in the face of unpredictability and change is to support and manage the adaptive capacity of your cows and of yourself. In other words, agility or the ability to adapt to challenges and change is key to longer term success. Staying open to continuous learning and new technologies will help to keep yourself agile. Rethinking how we breed and feed cows to foster resilience will keep cows agile. And there are already great technologies out there that can help monitor the progress we make in this.

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Covid 19 – A litmus test for agility in agriculture

How are egg prices and egg producers responding to Covid 19

Egg prices increased dramatically as consumers started to change their behaviour and habits with the Covid 19 outbreak.

Consumers had been stockpiling basic food items including milk, eggs and bread to prepare for potential quarantines. But as lockdowns were introduced and people had to stay at home actual consumption increased. People are no longer eating out, so the demand for eggs is shifting from the foodservice sector to the retail channel, as consumers are cooking more meals at home. There is also an increase in home-baking activities as some are taking to stress-baking to cope with isolation and others bake to keep their kids entertained and combat boredom. Egg consumption also increased to replace more expensive forms of protein in households that are seeing a decline in their income as a result of Covid 19 job losses.

As a result retail stores are struggling to meet the demand and then there is Easter just around the corner. On top of concerns for not being able to meet demand the poultry industry in the US is concerned that the ongoing labour shortage could be exacerbated due to the impact of the Covid 19 crisis.

How are egg producers responding

Egg producers are uncertain of how long the impact of the virus on the egg market will last, so are unlikely to increase the number of hens in response to the increased demand for eggs caused by Covid 19. However, some egg producers aim to keep hens longer than they normally would to boost the number of eggs produced and meet demand. They are converting food service lines into retail where possible to meet the changing consumer demand.

Like in many other industries Covid 19 may also be a catalyst to digitization of operations, meaning that egg producers could adopt AI and IoT based solutions faster than they would otherwise.

This could include tools that enable farm managers to share data within the production team, while reducing the amount of time needed to be spent in face-to-face interactions, which can help make better decisions faster but also reduce the risk of spreading the virus. AI in the form of robots, which reduce floor egg incidence and the need for human intervention. IoT devices and species specific sensors for the poultry house can be used to capture data on bird weight, light levels, temperature, water usage, ammonia levels, which not only allows real-time observation at all times to manage chicken houses remotely, but also provides the opportunity for predictive modelling. For example it allows producers to predict when pullets reach their target weight and help farmers make corrections in management as needed.

Advantage of resilience in laying hens

Resilience in animals has been defined as the capacity of an animal to be minimally affected by disturbances or to rapidly return to the state pertained before exposure to a disturbance. Breeding for resilience in laying hen is being proposed as a strategy to obtain trouble-free hens which are easy-to-manage and enjoy greater health. This again would mean less need for human interventions, with less fluctuations in hen performance and greater laying persistence in the flock. So more resilient laying hens would also mean an advantage to cope with some of the challenges on managing flocks imposed by Covid 19. There is also the possibility to support resilience in laying hens by nutritional means and feeding for adaptive capacity.

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