2019 Ag Tech Summit in Champaign

Panelists at the 2019 Ag Tech Summit in Champaign talked about some of the work agricultural technology is doing in the field of animal science. From left Rod Johnson, University of Illinois, Brude Taillon, Elanco; Angella Green-Miller, TellTail; Lean Head AGCO/GSI and Ryan Lane, ADM

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The challenge is not only producing more food as the world population grows and demands more protein, but also doing it in a sustainable and socially-acceptable way, said Rod Johnson, head of the Department of Animal Health Sciences at the University of Illinois.

“We have some big problems we have to tend to,” Johnson said. And technology can help.

For example, precision animal management and artificial intellighence can help enhance animal welfare, he said.

“We’re definitely at the beginning, but the opportunity is tremendous,” he said while moderating a panel of animal health technology experts at the 2019 Ag Tech Innovation Summit March 6.

Labor savers

Angela Green-Miller, a University of Illinois professor, co-founded TellTail at the university’s research park in Champaign a year ago. She wanted to make university research useful to pig farmers.

“As a professor I wanted to see the impact of our research,” she said.

The company makes software to help pork producers make decisions about food, air, water, health and weight of their pigs. It aims at reducing uncertainty and risk.

Unhappy animals do not grow as well as those that are comfortable, and controlling the pigs’ living conditions adds to their health and productivity, said Lena Head, who manages a grain and livestock operation with her husband in Decatur, Illinois, and is also the director at the AGCO Acceleration Center.

Another challenge for technology is labor.

“Labor is huge in our industry and is among the No. 1 issues,” Head said.

Part of her company’s goal is to automate tasks typically done manually, she said.

Working together

Research often starts looking in a dozen directions, then narrows down, Head said of the GSI group projects.

Ryan Lane, ADM vice president of Animal Nutrition Research and Biotech, said ADM often works with other innovators. The company has the philosophy that “it doesn’t have to be created here,” he said.

“We can work with other entities and expedite product development,” he said.

Bruce Taillon, director of external innovation at Elanco/Eli Lilly pharmaceuticals, said that between 30 and 50 percent of their projects are external. They often work with universities and other laboratories.

The company has short-, medium and long-term efforts because pharmaceuticals may take years to earn FDA approval, he said.

And some conversations with regulators can be very useful, Taillon said. A lot of work being done with human pharmaceuticals in the fields of diabetes and arthritis, for example, can lead to discoveries that can help animals as well. The goal is to find a way to make it cost effective, he said.

People question if GMO products and other innovations are “evil or angel.” It depends on public perception, he said. Science can be seen as a monster or a creator of solutions, he said.

“Globally we need to change that perception. Science is a good thing, not the bad guy,” he said.

Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.