“We don’t want to end up in a food crisis after the Corona crisis. Now is the time to show which technologies deliver what they promised and to speed up changes in the food chain”, according to Yasir Khokhar, CEO of agtech company Connecterra and part of Danone’s Farming for Generations project.
AgFunder’s Louisa Burwood-Taylor sat down – virtually – with Cees Jan Hollander, global farming practices manager at Danone and Yasir Khokhar, CEO of Connecterra, to find out how the coalition “Farming for Generations” is going and how COVID-19 is impacting their businesses.
Responsibility for dairy farmers
In the video interview, Hollander explained why Farming for Generations was started. “Farmers are eager and willing to start with sustainable practices but often don’t know where to start. What is best for their farm in their region and with their own farm style? Farmers ask guidance on this, and we rely on these farmers for their products. We have a responsibility here. With Farming for Generations, we have teamed up with seven partners to work on identifying the best practices for regenerative agriculture for farmers, so farmers can start with practices that have the best impact for their farm. We choose to work in a consortium because there is so much knowledge out there and the seven partners in Farming for Generations all have the same vision and strategy regarding regenerative agriculture. We want to change and heal what is broken and keep what is good. We need to be an activist in this”, Hollander explains.
Creating a data model of a farm
Connecterra is one of the consortium members in Farming for Generations. Khokhar: “We are humbled to be part of this project and our company name already explains why we fit in there: Connecterra means ‘Connected earth’. At Connecterra we look at the interaction of different aspects of farming. Think of the interaction of animals, soil, feed, management practices and different types of genomics. How is this impacting behavior animals and farming practices in general? This is why we are creating a ‘data model of a farm,’ which enables us to improve certain Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) of a farm. Important KPI’s for regenerative agriculture are for example the total output of greenhouse gas emissions per hectare of land or kilogram of milk. When creating a data model of a farm, we are talking huge volumes of data. And this is a perfect scenario to use machine learning models. And this is exactly what we do at Connecterra”. In the consortium, Khokhar therefore sees an important role for his company to be the ‘glue’ between the different entities and facilitate effective sharing of data, insights and analytics on the best practices and to use data to identify what they are. Hollander adds: “Danone’s interest is to make farming more regenerative and reducing the cost of production of milk is part of this as well. This is where technology comes in. We therefore partner with Connecterra, because their technology reduces costs and improves cow performance. This is for example done by catching sick cows at an early stage, resulting in less treatment costs and antibiotics and minimal losses of production”.
The technologies that deliver in crisis times
In Agfunder’s online interview, COVID-19 was – of course – discussed and what the impacts of this crisis are for the dairy industry as a whole and for the daily business of Danone and Connecterra. Khokhar: “During COVID-19 we see different problems in agriculture amplifying. For starters, agriculture already has a big challenge to find enough, skilled labor to work on the farms. We see this problem now being brought to a whole new level. Workers simply can’t travel at the moment and in the US, the majority of the work force on dairy farms are immigrants. We also see problems in logistics throughout the food chain. This means that the agriculture industry is (partly) disconnected. We need to improve this. The key question is how tech can play a role here. How can we use data to make effective decisions?”
We don’t want food crisis after Corona crisis
According to Khokhar, agriculture is now, more than ever, looking at reducing costs and optimization. A crisis time like this is a test to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to technologies for dairy farmers. “Some technologies promise a lot and don’t deliver during COVID-19. It is about the ones that deliver in the crisis”, Khokhar addresses. This is pivotal to make farms more resilient. But technology will also play a bigger role in the total food chain. Khokhar: “We don’t want to end up in a food crisis after the Corona crisis. Interestingly, we see that this crisis brings back a sense of consciousness among consumers about staple foods that matter, like milk. This will also have an effect on how food safety and food chains will be organized after the crisis. The focus on food quality and transparency will further increase and the stakeholders in the food chain will need to integrate more technology to be able to provide data as evidence. At Connecterra we are working on looking at new types of data sources to help stakeholders show the evidence to consumers on how food is produced. And we want to this at a large scale”.
Sustainability remains high on the agenda
Even though some farmers are struggling, sustainability remains a topic that is high on the agenda for Danone and Connecterra. “We are thinking long term. The Corona crisis is a big one and nobody saw this coming. But it will be over one day. But there are things that we do see coming, like climate change. We have to think long term and will continue to work on making farming more regenerative. This crisis is simply showing us that we have to move even faster”, Khokhar says. “Despite the crisis at the moment we have to look for the long term when working in agriculture. Sustainability is also financial sustainability for farmers. We want to make farms more resilient and give farmers the tools to work on soil health, animal health and more. This is why a project like Farming for Generations is now key and more important than ever”, Hollander concludes.