Sustainable Animal Feed: Is Software the (Unknown) Solution?

Feed manufacturers have never faced such significant pressures on their business and bottom line. Soaring costs and pricing volatility, supply chain issues, and more stringent rules and regulations have made for an increasingly challenging market of late.

Amid the current tensions, animal feed manufacturers are doing all they can to optimize their resources, improve waste management, and focus on smarter ingredient sourcing.

Over the coming years the more progressive, forward-looking companies will optimize not just on cost, nutrition, and regulatory constraints but also with carbon impact in mind.

Sustainability goals are driving companies to relook at formula optimization.

But how does Format Solutions help implement these sustainable practices?

Animal feed software not only improves productivity but allows users to implement more sustainable working practices – by cutting costs, optimizing productivity and performance, while still meeting the very specific nutritional requirements of their animals.

Thousands of companies around the globe now rely on Format Solutions’ innovative software to help enhance their operations. For many, software is proving the differentiator in the face of an increasingly difficult marketplace.

“Somebody who's not using formulation software really isn’t going to be attaining their sustainability targets,” says Mark Gilooly, Senior Implementation Specialist at Format Solutions. “Those who still rely on spreadsheets are simply not optimizing to the best of their ability in a least, or best cost way. A lot of their time will instead be taken up trying to manage those spreadsheets rather than using software specially designed to help make the best of your ingredients and optimized, quality formulas.”

“To improve sustainability, you really have to embrace digitalization and software like Format’s to make a real difference,” he says. “Digitalization is about being able to make use of Big Data – and Format Solutions makes management and interrogation of that information much easier.”

The agriculture industry is well positioned to collect these data. Once you have appropriate metrics, you can then start including those into the software and start to see the impact in the product characteristics. You could, for example, look at how much electrical energy it takes to grind a ton of maize and how much carbon is used to transport that ton from producer to storage, and then on to the mill – and extrapolate from there, he says.

“If you can measure electricity consumption and plug those numbers into our system, you can build up sustainability targets inside the software that take into account these additional factors to produce formulas that not only meet animal requirements but also help to address environmental responsibilities in a cost effective manner.”

Recent commentary in the industry has highlighted ingredient sourcing as the biggest contributor to the carbon footprint over production, packaging, and transport. Measuring and managing this in the software allows you to make informed decisions about raw material procurement.

Sustainability Remains a Priority

For the feed industry, a focus on sustainability and continuous improvement is certainly nothing new. Many players have long recognized just how the precise control of food and nutrition can reduce their environmental impact.

This appetite for a more sustainable future is being driven by a shift in public perception and greater customer awareness, says Gilooly.

The negative publicity surrounding food miles, for example, means there's a lot of pressure on companies to buy their ingredients more locally rather than shipping them halfway around the world. Farms producing red meat are trying to reduce the amount of methane gas from their beef cattle, perhaps by finding ways of better managing their feed and diets to minimize emissions.

“The customer is becoming savvier about what is happening in this space, and feed manufacturers are having to respond to what they’re looking for,” says Gilooly. “There's been an awareness for a while but there's been no pressure to get it done. But now, sustainability has become a serious concern and everybody is focused on it.”

“Our software allows our customers to finely hone their recipes and maximize performance. If, for example, you want to make a diet for laying hens that are between 35-40 weeks old, eating maybe 140g of feed per day, it helps you achieve the right source of nutrients, such as protein and energy so the birds achieve peak performance.”

“Our aim is to help people use the right ingredients and source them from the right places. There are lots of different factors and we recognize that each of them has a bearing on the end product,” he says.

Formulation software makes calculations based on ingredients and nutrients – protein, moisture, fat, calcium, and phosphorus; or specific characteristics such as carbon content, water usage, and food miles.

Modern feed management is very advanced and there's a growing understanding of spillage and waste, thanks largely to the levels of analysis now going into food production and the support from software providers such as Format Solutions.

Waste management, efficiency, maximizing resources, and ingredient sourcing are all factors that can be managed by effective animal feed software.

“Format Solutions has always tried to find ways to adapt techniques to solve real world problems and prides itself on really understanding what the issues are for its clients,” adds consultant Merryl Webster, formerly Managing Director of the business. “It's part and parcel of real work we've done with researchers to get some really great results for the industry.”'

A Collaborative Approach

For several decades, Format Solutions has formed key partnerships with industry and academia to develop new and innovative approaches to animal feed and nutrition. Many of these advances have helped shape the future of the industry, says Webster.

One such project focused on predicting and controlling the variability of finished products, thereby allowing users to source more sustainably.

“We were establishing a value for materials that were more consistent as opposed to highly variable ones,” she says. “If you can produce a more consistent animal feed without the variability, through using more consistent raw materials, then it’s much nearer to spec. There’s a value in that. It’s far less wasteful and more efficient for the animal to convert that package of nutrients. It also allows you to plan and purchase accordingly. It's important your ingredients are more consistent and you’re not buying something that is hugely variable, which is a problem for feed mills. If you know what you're getting, you’ve got much better chance of buying well and using it well.”

Another initiative carried out by Format Solutions had looked at reducing the carbon dioxide (CO2) footprint of the feed production industry. The business partnered with the UK’s Carbon Trust to look at how additives could reduce the CO2 output and electricity use of those producing pelleted feed.

By determining electricity consumption metrics, Format Solutions discovered factors could be assigned to ingredients in mixtures going through a pelleting press to predict and control the electricity usage of a ton of feed and potentially result in significant savings.

“This technique would actively change the formula to use ingredients that would pellet more easily, use less electricity to get a ton of feed, and therefore lower CO2 emissions – while still retaining all the required characteristics and nutritional values,” says Webster. “The feed quality would be the same, meeting all the constraints and characteristics in the design template regarding, for example, minimum protein, maximum salt, as well as the right levels of calcium and energy in respect of what the animals would need.”

At the time, the true benefits were limited by lower electricity prices but with energy prices soaring, the concept is particularly pertinent today. And the same can be said for other factors such as food miles.

Efficient Production

Format Solutions has always prided itself on its innovative approach and was recognized for its efforts a few years ago when it won an innovation award from VICTAM for its ground breaking Integra-Mix®. Five years in development, the unique technique is now widely used by pet food manufacturers and seen as an effective way of reducing waste, improving manufacturers’ efficiency, and supporting their sustainability strategy.

A typical can of dog food, for example, comprises many different ingredients – jelly, meat, flavorings etc. – that are produced separately. Only when they are combined does the end product meet the animal’s nutritional requirements.

However, these subcomponents are often made in longer runs and batches of varied sizes before being split to produce different end products.

Managing these different proportions to make many unique products is particularly complex. Integra-Mix® helps users define the precise formulas for each of the various subcomponents, saving them both time and money.

As a leading software provider supplying animal feed manufacturers across 93 different countries, Format Solutions’ teams understands the interaction between ingredients, what our customers want, and what their animals need.

Our market-leading software tool helps users enhance their efficiencies and boost productivity, while supporting their sustainability goals.

If you are interested in learning more about Format Solutions and how our software can help boost your sustainability efforts, contact us today.