Interview: Lynn Verstrepen on the importance of feed management
Feed formulation software is no longer just about making feed. The complexity of legislation on food safety, declaration, hazardous materials and others in an ever-globalising industry has grown stronger over the last couple of years. We sat down with BESTMIX® product manager Lynn Verstrepen and discussed the importance of feed management and its effects on operational efficiency.
For Feed and Premix companies delivering products in the USA, the new VFD (Veterinary Feed Directive) is such a change in legislation, affecting the content of our customers’ labels and tags. How has feed formulation software changed from just making feed to helping to reduce antibiotics?
Lynn Verstrepen: BESTMIX labelling and tagging tools have always helped our customers to generate legally compliant tags in a very efficient manner. Our smart labelling tools enable users across the globe to make fully compliant labels in a completely automated process. Our customers implement and update international legislations and local rules without going into a manual and cumbersome tag creation process.
The main objectives of the VFD is to regulate antibiotic usage in food producing animals, increasing animal welfare and to stop bacterial resistance to these antibiotics. To the existing over the counter and prescription drug classifications, the VFD classification was added as a more practical alternative to prescription drugs for feed. A VFD is a written statement by a licensed veterinary and authorizes the usage of the particular VFD drug to a client. Using BESTMIX Labelling and Tagging tools, implementing these changes and rolling out the VFD rules on your tags are worry free. Using existing functionality in the software, it is just a matter of updating some classifications and adding extra rules to the compendium file and label templates.
BESTMIX users can choose to bulk update all active product tags in one go or start implementing the new layouts when revising new or existing feed products. Either way, BESTMIX software is ready to comply with the new Veterinary Feed Directive.
Besides labelling, the implementation of recipe models also makes it possible to validate recipes prior to production on both internal and legal quality standards. Because we do not believe that making it yourself is by definition better, we constantly look for partnerships with specialists in the industry. A typical example is Lisam Systems SA. Their knowledge on the declaration of hazardous materials and our knowledge on feed formulation processes guarantee our users fully compliant product declarations and safety data sheets, embedded in the formulation process, thus giving the user the ability to react on the fly, during formulation.
Are there any current needs in the industry that formulation software fulfils?
Lynn Verstrepen: The goal of formulation software is to support as many needs as possible in the industry. At Adifo, we collaborate together with our customers, whom we see as partners. This is how we, as a supplier of feed formulation software, always look ahead and provide answers and solutions to the challenges of today and tomorrow. Some topics we actively focus on:
1. Dealing with volatile quality of raw materials
The follow up of the quality of raw materials is a well-known process. How to respond to and decide fast and accurately on quality fluctuations is another. We offer a software platform that captures quality information on raw materials and transforms them into value for the formulation department. Integrating feed formulation and quality control software gives more flexibility and accuracy to really deliver the quality that is expected. We can also make sure that software is integrated with an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, so the contract details from the purchase department, including the quality of the different contracts can be exchanged with the formulation software. For every individual contract a decision can be taken by the purchase department not only whether or not to use this contract, but also when to use this contract and at which production location. ERP no longer needs to aggregate contracts, which had proven to be a complex and error-prone process. It has become a contract by contract decision.
2. Productivity and increased channels in communication
The process of feed formulation involves many stakeholders: the customer, the formulator, the premix company, the field advisor, the government, suppliers of raw materials, laboratories etc. Making it easy for them to collaborate is key. The traditional ways of communication such as phone or email no longer suffice. Adifo has therefore developed the online platform ‘Formulation as a Service’, which makes it possible for all stakeholders to get access to real time information and react when and where necessary. This collaboration platform makes cooperation more efficient and effective and results in a stronger awareness of the importance of sharing and exchanging information. Users are informed in an automated way, by subscribing to information; a recipe, an ingredient, a product,etc. Just like you would subscribe to a newsletter. The relevant information is brought to them whenever needed and users don’t need to go and check data at regular intervals, making the information flow more efficient.
Is there any relation between precision nutrition programs and formulation software? Or is that something that will be coming in the future?
Lynn Verstrepen: There is definitely a link between precise nutrition and formulation nowadays. A practical example is that a few years ago people were using phytase to release phosphorus. Now we understand more about phytase and its influence on nutrients as well as on animal performance. Therefore, a formulator will formulate diets based on more complete phytase destruction and provision of nutrients beyond phosphorus. Its important that feed formulation software allows these kinds of optimisation models. In BESTMIX for example it’s already possible to set up non-linear models for phytase, NSP and proteases.
Another example is the trend to no longer formulate on a generic basis. A ration advisor will no longer give advice that is applicable to the total herd. He/she wants to give very specific advice per customer per cow. Adifo’s ‘cloud based ration calculation as a service’ tool is already specialised in this precision feeding advice. We can allow our FaaS users to give advice even per 100 g more milk production. This kind of specific advice will increase the efficiency and performance on individual cow level.
Of course, there are more practical examples than the one that I have mentioned. It is definitely a vision of Adifo to continuously look how our software can assist more and more in bringing precise nutrition closer to the formulation business.
Does Adifo have any new updates that would be useful to share with feed mills?
Lynn Verstrepen: More and more data is captured during the feed formulation process. The global availability of the internet makes it possible to generate a real-time flow of data. So far, most of this information is used in a reactive manner. This means the information is used to amend production processes, to recalibrate equipment or to take other corrective actions. Many tools exist to visualise and manipulate this information in an understandable way. The challenge now lies in using this information not in a reactive model, but in a proactive way. Using Artificial Intelligence or machine learning software will analyse the information coming in and take proactive measures, without any user interaction.
Machine learning – some examples
Adifo is looking into ways of how machine learning can make producers work more efficiently. An example: When the temperature in a feed mill varies, the moisture loss during production could be controlled and compensated in an automated way by adding or removing the correct amount of steam. Another example: In the sales process, wouldn’t it be great when the customer buys a particular item, the recommendations engine suggests additional items that are likely to be purchased together in the same transaction? Hence, this could be put into practice on an e-commerce website or when a customer calls to place an order. Applying machine learning technology on order history data could also give some insight into the buying pattern of the customer and consequently knowing when and how much he is likely to buy. This way, the production can be organised even before the orders are received. These are just some examples that show how we are working together intensively with the feed manufacturing industry to research how its products could make use of this “big data” and help its customers become more efficient.