A farmer’s point of view on technology & big data

[00:00] Welcome, everyone. This is AGcelerate. My name is Nikolai Shchetikhin and I have Jim Johnston with me. And today we have a guest, we have Robert Nijkamp, a farmer from Holland. 

[00:18] Hi, Nick, how are you? 

[00:20] Hi, Robert. Hi. 

[00:23] How is everybody doing? All good?   

[00:27] I’m fine. 

[00:28] Yeah, we’re doing really well, doing really well. 

[00:31] All right, Robert, we’re really happy to have you on the podcast. It’s always really nice to speak to the actual production people that having their hands on the animals. So my first question maybe just to introduce you a little bit, you can talk a little bit about yourself. And now, of course, how you started with poultry. Because we hear all kinds of stories from family business to an introduction through university, or somebody just got into the farming and poultry occasionally. So what is your story? 

[01:07] Yeah, I’m, I’m one of the family businesses. So I always say I inherited it from my dad. He started in the early 60s with broiler production. And as it was quite common in the Netherlands, it was a mixed farm. So we had pigs, we had poultry, we are dairy cows, a little bit of crop farming. And from that, I always likde the combination of different types, but because of all the information, data and legislation around it, and the big scale of farming right now, we decided 20 years ago, 25 years ago to skip the pigs and specialize us for dairy cows, and mainly our broiler production. And that’s what it is still today. 

[01:58] Yeah, that’s really interested in born into farming. We love speaking to people that are born into farming. Yeah, absolutely. And I’m really interested to speak to you a bit about your views on data and technology in the industry, there’s a bit of a myth that, you know, technology applied in the farming sector is really only practiced by big businesses, it’s only of value to big integrators processes feed Millers and, and not necessarily the farmer, what’s your thoughts on that?    

[02:32] Yeah, I think it’s, it’s, it’s the wrong point of view, because everybody, regardless if you like data and computers, or not, everybody today is working with data from your climate computer, your feeding computer, you’re always linked your mobile phone. So maybe you even don’t know that you’re collecting data. But it’s still it’s all data around you. And I think a lot of people don’t realize this. But yes, you’re always working with data. And if maybe if you didn’t switch on, you’re still records and collect data. And I think it will be time to do something, that can help your profitability of your business to use your data. But the data is around in every farm in every farmerHe’s working with data. 

[03:29] All right, and you know, how fast the farmers you think, switched from pen and pencil to all these digital data collection tools? Was that smooth? Or, you know, because you’ve been with the farming for quite a long time, you probably saw how that shift and switch was happening.   

[03:50] Yeah, in my neighborhood are still a few farmers are using pencil and paper, but the climate computers still recording your data. And I think it depends a little bit on what your supplier or your meat chain, your key player has some demands on collecting data or sending data, which makes it sometimes necessary to switch to an automatic system or to provide your supplier with data. But a lot of data is recorded, but it’s still not used. And I think because of all the different platforms that will be sometimes a struggle for a farmer to use it in a proper way. 

[04:37] And I think we already talked a little bit about those silos of data in our previous episodes. But Robert, if you let me switch the direction a little bit here, I just wanted to ask you like the last year was not easy for anyone, regardless of the industry in the size of a company and COVID affected the For the industry quite a lot, because companies been switching or trying to switch from food service to retail, and rearranging all the supply chain in business. So how did that change affect you? 

[05:17] In my particular business only a little bit, because in a kind of niche markets, if you look at worldwide, but in the Netherlands, it’s almost 20% of the markets have the fresh meat market is still slower growing and which is mainly sold in the in the retail in the supermarket. They had increasing numbers of sellers selling cold meat. So we didn’t have to switch off. But I saw a lot of farmers in my neighborhoods who has to switch to other production types or other businesses and that Yeah, sometimes it’s it struggles first because of the price. First price drops down because nobody sells and buys meat in the in the food supply in the food service. So that became difficult. And then you have to switch to another market of new and so it depends a lot on the type of farming you were in. So but in my particular case, it was slower growing broilers, it was quite easy because the market was increasing.      

[06:31] That whole area around slow growing broilers is quite interesting, Robert, and for our viewers who are anywhere in the world, you know, that maybe not tuned in to exactly what’s been happening over the last few years in the Netherlands, where we’re basically your retailers and the industry have determined that fresh chickens in retail will be a slower growing bird. What? What does that mean? And what’s the differences between the slow growing bird today and previously when you were growing a more conventional broiler? 

[07:03] Yeah, until 2015, I was a conventional farmer too. That’s the year I switched because I built a new house and I decided to switch to slower growing. And because of a lot of pressure from animal welfare companies, the retailers and the slaughter side, I decided to switch to slower growing. And it makes a difference in the length of the day of the period, they are on the farm. And there are a lot of different levels of slower growing and basic demands in industry is set to 49 days of duration of work. And then you have to use a slower growing birds,and but on top of that, there is the became a star ranking system of an animal welfare company, which is well known in the Netherlands, and I think almost in Europe, and I’m producing for the first hour, which means that the duration of a flock is at least 56 days. So it’s eight weeks to grow. If you compare it to the five, five and a half weeks to reach the 2.4 2.5 kilogram that we are used to do, it’s a huge difference. So you not only need a different type of broiler, but you also need slow growing feed, you have almost half of the density your house, you have to provide daylight in your house. So it’s not a switch, which you can make from one flock to another. So we have to build an Winter Garden, you have to make daylight in your house. So it’s quite big decisions you have to make for a while. 

[09:01] So it’s more of a like a consumer driven change in farming. And also like all the certifications that are driving it. So with all the free range and like pasture raised and slow growing, it’s more or more or less in the same category? 

[09:23] Yeah, if you look at the retail business, there was a big price gap between organic outgrow farming and conventional farming. And the animal welfare companies made a lot of pressure to fill that gap and say, Okay, let’s scale up our standards broiler and the industry say okay, we want to work together and they did. And that’s why this they decided to set up the minimum levels of animal welfare in the industry. 

[09:56] That’s cool. Thanks for that explanation. Really, really interesting. Then What’s your thoughts, Robert, on technology? And how you can utilize technology more from a farmer’s point of view to help improve welfare and overall efficiencies on the farm? What’s your thoughts there? 

[10:15] Yeah, it’s, I think it can help us a lot if you just mentioned the certification schemes and things like that. And I think we already show what we are doing because of the data which is still everyday collected in your house. And I think, for example, in my case of slower growing broilers, but also in conventional farming of a neighborhood or for your environmental issues around you, you can show for some of your data that you try to do the best you can. And I think it can help, for example, to sell the meat in the retailer for retailers. But it can also help you explain what you’re doing and how you are working. And I think that the data is still there, you, you have it in your computer, you only have to use it and show to people and convince people that you’re doing it the right way. And I think if you have a good dashboards, and you can show it to your people, I think it can help a lot. And I always say I love data. But I don’t love sensors. So I’m not in for having more sensors, I think we have to work and gather and collect all the existing data, which is still on your farm or in your house. And if you’re using that in a proper way, it can help you and it can have benefits not only for a farmer, but I think for the whole meat industry but also for the whole meat chain. 

[11:49] All right, so this will give you help with traceability on one end so that you ensure that you’re growing what you’re growing. And also it will give you to grow birds or you know, whatever other animals you’re using much better performance. So they will have a better conditions, you would know that they perform better, they feel better, etc. 

[12:13] Yep, that’s the one I always say, use your data, which is already available on your farm. But it’s only step one. 

[12:24] Yeah, hey, that’s really interesting comment, Robert, and look, it’s been it’s been good speaking to you today. We always like Nick and I speak into people from different countries are involved in, in the poultry industry and, and hearing about how they started in the poultry industry, but also discussing some topical subjects. And it’s been good just to get your views on data, data management technology, new equipment that might be used. And then I love the approach of actually just let’s, let’s use what we have today. Because if we can use that better, that in itself will will improve the way we grow our birds and welfare, etc. And it’s a very good point. So being great speaking to you about that. And the other interesting dynamic in the Netherlands is slow growing broilers, of course, which is very topical in Europe at the moment and significant pressure building for retailers around Europe to start to change and utilize that model that’s been used in the Netherlands over the last few years. So it’s another topic of great interest to I’m sure a lot of people that that view this AGcelerate show. But thanks for your time today, Robert, it’s been really good. I appreciate it very much.  

[13:39] Okay. Thank you. 

[13:40] Yeah. Thanks, Robert. And for those who just joined us on this AGcelerate show, not to miss new episodes, follow us on social media. We’re on LinkedIn, on Twitter, on Instagram, and check out our website. And again, thanks, Robert, for joining us on this show.  

[13:58] You’re welcome. Thank you. too 

[14:02] Bye bye.  

[14:03] Bye. 


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