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Alltech hosts a 'glimpse' into agribusiness in 2020

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By Jennifer M. Latzke

What do you get when you combine 2,347 attendees, 172 speakers, and 127 unique topics of discussion in one symposium?

You get a glimpse into the future of agribusiness and technology in 2020.

The 29th Annual Alltech International Symposium was May 19 to 22 in Lexington, Ky. The symposium theme, “GLIMPSE The future in 2020” was an acronym representing: Government; Losses in food and ingredient supply chain; Infrastructure; Markets; Politics and Policies; Science and innovation; and Environment. The agricultural sector will have to face each of these challenges in the future in order to feed a growing population, explained Pearse Lyons, president and founder of Alltech.

The symposium brought out some of the world’s leaders in science, technology and business to inspire and educate attendees. As Lyons explained in his opening session, allowing people to live up to their potential has the best chance of leading to innovations that will change our world.

“A leader recognizes that you must take your best people and put them where the opportunities are,” he said. And, if an agribusiness is to grow, it needs to know its core values and attributes.

To that end, Professor Damien McLaughlin, of the University College Dublin, Ireland, spoke about identifying the core of a business in a growing marketplace during the opening session. The future of agribusiness in a growing world economy means that entrepreneurs, both large and small, will have opportunities to grow—but they must be true to their cores if they are to succeed.

“Most growth initiatives fail because they diversify from the core of the business,” McLaughlin said. “Do you know what the core of your business is? Could you explain it to me like I’m explaining OSI or Smithfield? Are you absolutely clear that that is what the core of your business is?

“If you’re like most CEOs, most managers, the answer is no,” McLaughlin added. “People are too busy to know what the core of their business is.” The second question entrepreneurs should ask themselves is does your management team know the core, he added. Most would say that they’re too busy with the day-to-day operations. And yet, they are the two most important questions to ask, McLaughlin said.

From a family farm to a large corporation, he said there are four steps to growing a business: Define a differentiated core; build value for customers based on your core; grow thoughtfully through adjacencies; and replicate the model.

Most importantly, McLaughlin advised agribusiness entrepreneurs to keep the founder’s mentality as the business grows.

“At first, those organizations are insurgents in the market, they are focused on what the organization has to do,” he said. “But then they trade focus for scale. Then they forget why they were insurgent in the first place.” Stick to a repeatable business model and make sure that your management team follows, he added.

As the world market grows ever more complex and our food chain more interconnected, the likelihood of a food safety or other business crisis grows as well.

One of the more popular breakout sessions during the symposium covered crisis management, especially in the age of 24-hour news cycles and social media.

David Wescott, vice president for APCO Worldwide, led the attendees in a mock-up of a crisis playing out in real time over Twitter and other social media outlets.

There was also a panel of speakers that included Gavin Megaw, a director at Hanover, an independent consulting firm that advises global clients on branding, reputation and public affairs. Liz Kynoch, former group technical director for Tesco in the United Kingdom, also was on the panel. Kynoch shared her experiences with Tesco, which was caught up in the horsemeat scandal that rocked Europe last year. Dr. Patrick Wall, a professor of Public Health in University College Dublin’s School of Public Health and Population Sciences, spoke about his past experience handling food safety crises as the first chief executive of the Irish Food Safety Authority, which was set up to restore consumer confidence after the bovine spongiform encephalopathy crisis of the late 1990s. Wall also spoke during the ending general session for the symposium.

Wall said consumer confidence is crucial and a fragile thing for the agricultural sector, which shares one goal.

“We have the fundamental shared goal to produce safe and nutritious food,” he said. “Basically, we are in the human health business.” Wall helped create the European Food Safety Authority, which is similar to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“In 1996 the British government assured the public that beef was safe to eat, but in 1996 BSE shattered consumer confidence in our supply and in our regulators,” Wall said. “The beef industry around the globe was impacted by this.” Other scares, like Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001, dioxin found in contaminated pig feed in 2008, and swine flu in 2009 all have made their mark on the global food industry. And after each, the supply chain was tweaked to be safer and more transparent.

And then came the horse meat scandal in 2012, and while no one became sick because horsemeat was switched for beef, the combination of fraud and the “yuck factor” brought about tens of millions of Internet hits and reputable companies had their brands damaged overnight. The situation was a perfect example of how tangled the global supply chain can be and why it’s more important than ever to find and fix the weak links in our chain, he said.

“In addition to consumer confidence, we need to be confident in our businesses, our products and ourselves,” Wall said. Competitiveness and efficiency help us grow our market share, Wall added, but we have to also use creativity to use science to fix some of the health issues coming out now. This helps all of agriculture weather the storms of crises.

“There is no room for shoddy operators—there is no room for illegal practices,” Wall said. And, he added, anyone who operates that way should be “culled from the herd.”

“Your brand is only as secure as the status of your weakest supplier,” Wall said. So, it’s key that agribusinesses have plans in place to not only protect their links in the chain, but react when a link fails down the line.

In the crisis management session, attendees learned it’s important to remember in a crisis there are three rules: There is someone in charge; there is a plan in place; and the plan can be seen to be working. In creating that plan, management must assemble a team that has authority to act, as well as a team of experts to help manage internal and external communications. Once the procedures are in place, it’s just a matter of communicating your plan to all in the organization and testing the system.

“We’ve had enough food scares, enough food recalls, enough outbreaks of food poisoning, enough food fraud, and enough adverse publicity because the food supply chain has never been safer,” he said. You can protect your link in the food chain and if everyone did so the system would be robust, Wall added.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or jlatzke@hpj.com.

Date: 7/22/2013



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