Disrupting the livestock sector
Creating the future, or “orderly disruption,” will require common ground amongst all stakeholders
By Mike McMorris, Livestock Research Innovation Corporation
I recently attended the annual general meeting of AgSights, an LRIC member organization dedicated to data collection, information and genetic evaluations. This AGM was special because AgSights is celebrating thirty years as a producer-led cooperative. Such a milestone is a great time to look back and recognize where you came from and celebrate success. It is also a good time to pause and think about where you want your organization to be in 10 to 30 years.
Those attending the AGM were asked to choose three words to describe AgSights of the future as they hope it will be. Responses included leader, innovation, etc. The most intriguing answer was “disruptor”.
By definition, a disruptor can be a company or form of technology that causes radical change in an existing industry by means of innovation.
Ask people what they think of when they hear the word disruption, and you will get mixed reactions. Avian influenza has been a big disruptor; so, too, has the iPhone and so using those as examples, some people fear disruption while others welcome it.
Some disruptions come with a great promise of return and yet after significant time and expense, fall short. Though it varies greatly by sector, the implementation of traceability has certainly been disruptive, yet it is incomplete and has failed to live up to the promised return on investment for farmers. These experiences make us wary of further proposed change.
A key to how change of any kind is perceived is whether or not those being disrupted have choice. No-one chose to have Avian Influenza wreak havoc across Canada. None of us chose to live through three years and counting of a global pandemic. We all did, however, have choice with regards to buying a cell phone – although why we cling to the term “phone” is beyond me.
Most times, the only way to have choice is to actively engage in the disruption. As often quoted: “The best way to know the future is to create it”. Creating the future, or “orderly disruption”, as much as that is possible at least, requires some common ground amongst the key players, including producers, government, industry stakeholders and academia.
To help with planning, LRIC has been modelling a new A2B approach in which “A” is where your sector is now with regards to the big issues (e.g., use of antimicrobials), “B” is where you need to get to, and “2” is what needs to happen to move from A to B. Those actions will include research, innovation, policy, emergency management planning and so on.
Often this planning process will unveil needs in documenting where you are today and so benchmarking is a critical first step. The process also creates a common goal that all parties work toward, which is often not the case today.
Creating as well as preparing for disruptions feeds into an innovation system. That system has five components: funding, priorities, project management, GRIP (getting research into practice) and commercialization.
LRIC’s International Research Advisory Committee prepared a report on this system last year and this year they are focusing on collaboration in setting research priorities and improving GRIP in the livestock sector. The results of several recent initiatives suggest that a new model of GRIP is needed and one step toward that will be LRIC’s GRIP Roundtable on April 19.
It is a fact that the livestock industry will face multiple disruptions in the coming years. These will arise from the issues of climate change (reducing impact of production as well as adapting production to changes in weather); reducing the use of antimicrobials; water use and quality; more disease challenges; and from some sides we cannot yet imagine.
It is far better to be an active participant in those disruptions, creating some and mitigating the impact of others, than waiting and hoping that others, including Mother Nature, have your interests at heart as they disrupt your business.
Being a disruptor will cause blowback and so it will require a critical mass of people willing to change to drive toward orderly disruption. I’ve learned that the status quo carries tremendous inertia across organizations. The harder but better way is to embrace orderly disruption.
Editorial published in Farmtario March 6, 2023