The sheer numbers of EuroTier speak an impressive language. Around 2,628 exhibitors highlighted their innovations to 163,000 visitors from over 100 countries. But while the numbers may have emphasised EuroTier´s role as the most important livestock fair in the world, many people asked themselves whether the event can also deliver input on how agriculture can progress towards more sustainability, better animal welfare and thus public acceptance.
Indeed, after years of a gloomy mood, the livestock sector seems to be facing a brighter future. This can be attributed to three factors:
1. Farmers have regained understanding
At least in Germany, for years farmers were blamed as the ones sticking to animal husbandry standards seen as outdated. This narrative is changing though. Watching the plentiful discussions at EuroTier, former critics such as environmental NGOs are now starting to see farmers as partners. They have realised that changes in livestock farming are not hampered by a lack of will, but by a lack of resources. Attention is now shifting to retailers who could be key in generating more income for farmers. Hence, we have seen more respectful debates rather than stand-offs at panel discussions.
2. Knowledge and innovations are making their way on to the farm
EuroTier was buzzing with innovations – all exhibitors had something new to offer. This does not only apply to hardware and equipment, but also veterinary medicinal products and animal genetics – robustness now being a more important goal rather than just focusing on productivity. In addition, new management techniques enable vets and farmers to put more effective herd-management into place and take a preventive approach to animal diseases. Furthermore, the use of ‘big data’ and precision livestock farming are only just gathering pace, so more positive developments can be expected.
3. Prices for agricultural goods are on the up
While prices for swine had already increased, dairy farmers had to wait until this autumn before milk-prices recovered from their record slump following the end of the quota-system. Prices have now increased to above 30 Cent/liter and are further on the up.
Before we start rejoicing that the crisis of livestock farming is over, though, we should remember that many farmers still have a rocky road ahead of them. Critics may have stopped using farmers as scapegoats, but the media have been so alerted to the challenges facing the industry that they continue scrutinising agriculture. And while technologies become available, it will take a while before they are being understood, accepted and adapted. As for the increased prices: 30 Cents/liter may cover costs again, but still don´t allow for larger investments.
What is important, though, is that farmers have more options than ever before. They may embrace innovations or concentrate on herd management. They can enhance their conventional production or go organic. They may be successful in production increase or reduce volume and make their products stick out through differentiation like high animal welfare standards or regionality.
Not every farmer may want to embrace change like that and some will consequently have to give up. But those that are prepared to change, and adopt new methods – a matter of mentality, not age – have enough options to find their individual path to a better future.