How to Bring Sexy Back to Animal Ag Innovation

Kerryann Kocher, Principal at Rock Road Consulting, recently presented this content to highlight the need for innovation in animal agriculture and ways the industry and entrepreneurs can foster adoption of new technologies. This is a summary of her presentation.

Rock Road Consulting has tracked a total of 166 startups with offerings across Animal Ag Tech. The companies range from Seed to Series B Funding and their target customer is the livestock producer. We’ve categorized this startups and the one question you ask when looking at the companies broken out by category is, are we innovating in the areas of greatest industry need?

The answer: NO.

Here are a few highlights from these 166 startups:

  • 6%  are improving Genetics/Breeding
  • 9% are working on Robotics
  • 2% are building solutions around the Environment

Entrepreneurs are solving for the wrong things, like digital or data. The biggest problems we need solved in animal agriculture are:

  1. Labor
  2. Transparency

What solution are you building to enable producers to use less labor or increase transparency through the supply chain? This is where we need entrepreneurial and engineer talent rallied.

So we attempted to look at what attracts meaningful innovation to an industry.  I would propose that with 19.8B in venture-backed food and ag tech, that animal ag tech is not getting their share.  Is it because animal agriculture is not as attractive as crops?

The answer: NO

Here are the proof points to back up that emphatic answer:

  1. Per capita consumption of animal protein in the U.S. set a new record in 2019. 
  2. According to the ERS, on a national basis the economic size of the crop sector and the animal sector are about equal as measured by the value of production by USDA and have been since 1990.
  3. Animal ag gets branded as being slow to adopt, perhaps due to the “closed systems” of livestock producers, making it difficult to know the needs to solve for. On the flipside the integration and specialization of the industry also creates fewer producers to reach….in comparison.
  4. For cattle, we’ve heard VC’s say they don’t see the market of producers running cattle as a business as a large enough market

So of these factors that attract innovation, Kocher contends that adoption is where to start.

Which leads to her 4 key points about how the industry can improve technology adoption by creating a culture of innovation:

  1. Solve for real needs. This requires us as an industry to be clear on what those needs are…this is critical path to the future of protein.  This invites problem solvers to seek solutions for our industry vs, apply technology to our problems!  It also attracts new fresh talent to grow in our industry. 
  2. Invite Access. If you’re a producer or processor, create access points for entrepreneurs and problem solvers to feel, see, understand our challenges.  Culture is defined by behaviors. What if we are known as the most available, accessible, open and enthusiastic market for innovation….instead of slow adopters, a brand that does not attract entrepreneurial talent or venture capital to the space.
  3. Adopt and Iterate. Once we have provided access, allowed new comers into our farms and ranches, tried new theories and created space to do things different than they have always been done.  And then it FAILS…the defining behavior is what comes next.   Do we ITERATE…or do we penalize the proposed solution and give up. How do we remove the fear of failure and subsequent product adoption, but iterate to  mutual solution. 
  4. Be Proactive. If every organization in our industry said we will set aside 5 days a year to seek out and engage within innovation ecosystems, try new technology or just do something in a new way, we could start down the path of creating a create a culture of innovation .

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