EME Outlook - - Front Page - Writer: Jonathan Dy­ble Pro­ject Man­ager: Matt Selby

Chang­ing Bri­tish farm­ing for the bet­ter

The UK’s agri­cul­tural in­dus­try is flour­ish­ing. Ac­cord­ing to AB Con­nect’s web­site, agri­cul­tural land uses ap­prox­i­mately 70 per­cent of the UK’s en­tire land area and pro­duces roughly 60 per­cent of all food con­sumed across the coun­try, while the na­tional food and drink in­dus­try main­tains an

an­nual turnover in ex­cess of £70 bil­lion, a fig­ure that makes it the na­tion’s largest man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor.

Equally, how­ever, it is an in­dus­try fac­ing both sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties at the mo­ment.

“By 2050, the UK is fore­cast to be­come the most pop­u­lous coun­try in Europe,” Si­mon Heath, Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of AB Con­nect cites, call­ing upon re­cent fore­casts. “That fact alone brings with it chal­lenges, and get­ting more from less, cre­at­ing less waste and im­prov­ing ef­fi­cien­cies across the en­tire value chain is the only way we can feed the pop­u­la­tion for decades to come.”

De­spite this out­look, Heath is quick to it­er­ate that AB Con­nect, a com­pany which has the pri­mary pur­pose of help­ing farm­ers, pro­duc­ers and busi­nesses through­out the UK food and farm­ing sup­ply chain, will em­brace such chal­lenges.

Be­ing part of AB Agri, and a lead­ing fa­cil­i­ta­tor of pro­cess op­ti­mi­sa­tion, it is backed by ma­jor par­ent com­pany As­so­ci­ated Bri­tish Foods (ABF), an ac­tive ad­vo­cate of proac­tive in­vest­ment in prepa­ra­tion for the fu­ture, mak­ing it stand out as a true in­no­va­tor within the mar­ket.

“Th­ese chal­lenges play to us,” Heath states. “There will be more mouths to feed so there­fore a need for more food, which means the in­dus­try will need to in­vest to meet this de­mand. But we view this as more of an op­por­tu­nity than a threat. It’s a chance for us to cap­i­talise and dif­fer­en­ti­ate our­selves from the com­pe­ti­tion.”

With Bri­tish farm­ing poised for both chal­lenges and trans­for­ma­tion, AB Agri’s UK an­i­mal feed busi­ness, AB Con­nect, is play­ing the lead role when it comes to tak­ing a fresh, dif­fer­en­ti­ated ap­proach

Up­hold­ing in­dus­try trans­for­ma­tion

Pro­gres­sive is a word that best de­scribes the com­pany’s il­lus­tri­ous his­tory.

Formed in 2012 as part of AB Agri after its Tri­dent, KW and ABN UK di­vi­sions were merged, AB Con­nect has be­come fun­da­men­tal in in­creas­ing an­i­mal per­for­mance, re­duc­ing pro­duc­tion costs across the UK.

Fur­ther, the firm re­cently launched its rel­a­tively new Amur busi­ness – a con­cept that seeks to max­imise gas yields from co-prod­ucts that can’t be used to feed an­i­mals.

“Amur is sim­ply an ex­ten­sion of our ex­ist­ing skillset,” Heath re­veals. “We want to play our part in the food hi­er­ar­chy, en­sur­ing we get as much value from prod­ucts as we pos­si­bly can be­fore any­thing goes to landfill. This is what Amur of­fers.”

In essence, Amur is an anaer­o­bic di­ges­tion (AD) busi­ness that com­prises both a 3 MW plant, util­is­ing around

60,000 tonnes of food waste per year, and a soup plant which feeds the AD plant by keep­ing nu­tri­tion lev­els con­sis­tent and al­low­ing the bac­te­ria to thrive.

“We’re proud to be pi­o­neers in by-prod­uct and co-prod­uct waste streams,” Heath af­firms. “Our in­vest­ment into AD and AD soups are tes­ta­ment to that.”

This is just one ex­am­ple of the adap­tive and for­ward-think­ing ap­proach that has come to de­fine AB Con­nect’s prac­tices, owed to its par­ent com­pany’s in­flu­ence and readi­ness to re­act.

Heath con­tin­ues: “Apart from investing in Amur, we are also tri­alling sev­eral tech­nol­ogy plat­forms that will help us mon­i­tor and en­hance an­i­mal per­for­mance, re­duce miles trav­elled on our de­liv­ery fleets and in­crease pro­duc­tion out­puts whilst re­duc­ing our foot­print.

“ABF en­cour­ages a long-term out­look that al­lows us to think about the fu­ture, where the mar­ket is go­ing and what our cus­tomers might need, and en­sures we are ready for that by em­pow­er­ing our in­vest­ment strate­gies. A lot of our com­peti­tors don’t have such a lux­ury, let alone such an out­look.”

Cir­cu­lar suc­cess

Cou­pled with the in­flu­ence of ABF, cir­cu­lar­ity is equally a key driver of AB Con­nect’s suc­cess.

From AB Agri Insights and AB Vista to Spe­cial­ity Nu­tri­tion and AB Con­nect it­self, the AB Agri group is made up of a num­ber of spe­cialised busi­ness units that each ex­cel in dif­fer­ent stages of agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion cy­cles, pro­vid­ing a mul­ti­tude of benefits through in­ter-con­nected ex­per­tise.

“There are a cou­ple of ex­am­ples that spring to mind which bring this to life,” Heath re­sponds when asked about the cir­cu­lar na­ture of the busi­ness. “One would be how we work with our sis­ter com­pany Fron­tier. As well as be­ing a ma­jor mar­ket­ing com­pany of arable prod­ucts, part of its ser­vice port­fo­lio helps farm­ers utilise tech­nolo­gies and of­fers ad­vice to im­prove yields from their crops.

“We then pur­chase some of that grain from Fron­tier and again en­hance its nu­tri­tional value fur­ther through our knowl­edge and ex­per­tise in feed man­u­fac­tur­ing and for­mu­la­tions. The re­sult of this is a meat sup­ply chain that has been en­hanced at ev­ery step, from field to fork.”

Call­ing upon a sec­ond such ex­am­ple, Heath again eludes to the benefits of Amur and its prin­ci­ples of re­duc­ing the amount of waste that goes to landfill from food and drink man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses.

He con­tin­ues: “If co-prod­ucts can’t be fed to an­i­mals, we can use Amur to cre­ate an­other value stream in terms of gas yield. Some of th­ese prod­ucts come from sis­ter com­pa­nies, and equally the by-prod­uct of AD is di­ges­tate which we put back into the land as it has plant nu­tri­tion prop­er­ties.”

From help­ing farm­ers im­prove feed ef­fi­ciency to en­abling more sus­tain­able, en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly pro­cesses and adopt­ing bet­ter farm man­age­ment prac­tices, this cir­cu­lar ap­proach is game-chang­ing in the way of farm­ing in­no­va­tion, in which AB Con­nect is a vi­tal link.

Vir­tu­ous and visionary

Such a sys­tem, how­ever, is only able to work be­cause of the firm’s es­teemed em­ploy­ees – an­other of AB Con­nect’s core dif­fer­en­tia­tors.

Pro­vid­ing the plat­form for its em­ploy­ees to ex­cel through tai­lored train­ing pro­grammes and a num­ber of dif­fer­ent re­ward and recog­ni­tion schemes, talent turnover is low and op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­cel are abun­dant.

“Staff well­be­ing, per­sonal de­vel­op­ment and re­ten­tion are all key for me, as they should be for any man­ager,” ex­plains Heath. “We look for pas­sion. If we’ve got pas­sion­ate,

am­bi­tious peo­ple who want to de­velop them­selves and take on new chal­lenges, then we’re the per­fect en­vi­ron­ment for them.”

A mem­ber of AB Agri for over 30 years, Heath is not a lone vet­eran of the com­pany. He adds: “We have a num­ber of long­stand­ing, ded­i­cated col­leagues who have built up their knowl­edge, ex­per­tise, skills and re­la­tion­ships with our clients over pro­longed pe­ri­ods. Mak­ing sure we utilise and bal­ance that knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence with bring­ing new peo­ple into our busi­ness and in­dus­try is critical to us.”

What’s more, AB Con­nect read­ily sup­ports a broad num­ber of in­dus­try ini­tia­tives in ed­u­cat­ing young peo­ple, open­ing their eyes to the agri­cul­tural sec­tor as a fea­si­ble and pros­per­ous ca­reer path.

This in­cludes work with the

NFU (Na­tional Farm­ers Union) in spon­sor­ing an in­dus­try wide train­ing and de­vel­op­ment poul­try pro­gramme, ac­tive col­lab­o­ra­tion with trade bodies such as AIC (Agri­cul­tural In­dus­tries Con­fed­er­a­tion) and FEFAC (Euro­pean Feed Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion), and spon­sor­ing the Pig and Poul­try Fair at Stoneleigh, the largest event held for the mono­gas­tric in­dus­try in the UK.

“We’ve also be­gun to go to lo­cal schools to try and in­tro­duce young­sters to the in­dus­try, show­ing them what it is and ul­ti­mately what it isn’t,” Heath adds. And what it isn’t, is stag­nant.

One of the UK’s and in­deed the world’s fastest mov­ing in­dus­tries, owed to the ris­ing recog­ni­tion of the mer­its of en­hanced ef­fi­cien­cies and trans­for­ma­tive tech­nolo­gies, agri­cul­ture is poised for in­vest­ment

– a front that AB Con­nect will seek to pro­pel mov­ing for­ward.

“We strongly be­lieve in Bri­tish farm­ing, but our in­dus­try has to grow, and it needs in­vest­ment,” Heath states. “We have some of the high­est wel­fare and farm­ing stan­dards in the world and I am very proud to be a part of that, but we have to be com­mer­cially com­pet­i­tive with the rest of the world to en­sure im­ports are kept as low as pos­si­ble and ex­port op­por­tu­ni­ties are max­imised.

“Our role in that is to keep sup­ply chain costs as low as pos­si­ble, in­vest in our plants, peo­ple and in­fra­struc­ture, lever­age new tech­nolo­gies and R&D, all while try­ing to min­imise the im­pact on our planet that th­ese new de­mands will bring.”

AB Con­nect fam­ily tree

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