In recent weeks Burger King made waves in the agriculture world with its release of a commercial hoping to highlight its roll out of ‘Methane Reduced Whopper Sandwiches’. The two minute clip features Mason Ramsey yodeling how methane emissions could be reduced by 33%. Within days of its release many academic and business leaders pointed out the inaccuracies of the video. “I can find zero peer-reviewed papers to suggest that what they are saying is true,” stated Alison Van Eenennaam, a faculty member at UC Davis’ Department of Animal Science, about Burger King’s claim.
The since-pulled video represents a failed opportunity to highlight that the beef industry actually is doing its part to advance both production efficiency and environmental stewardship. A common misconception is beef production hit the ceiling of efficiency and production many years past while startup companies in plant based protein and cellular based protein are rapidly advancing. For this insights report it is worth taking a look into the continual progress being made by the startups in the former.
While Burger King’s attempt may have lacked scientific merit, the effort to reduce the 3% of greenhouse gases from livestock production is a noble one. The company Mootral is currently developing a natural feed supplement based on a compounds from garlic and flavonoids to improve ruminant health.
While the bulk of the alternative protein momentum has came from the coasts; innovation in the livestock industry has largely been driven by startups in the Midwest. Two recent exits in the sector include Zoetis’ acquisition of Performance Livestock Analytics (Ames, Iowa) and the Merck Animal Health acquisition of Quantified Ag (Lincoln, Nebraska). One exception to this is the Bay Area based TL Biolabs. TL Biolabs is developing a genomic platform for the beef industry and has been backed by Andreeson Horowitz.
Increased focus on automation and management efficiency has created market opportunities for startups in smart tracking, fencing, robotics and automated care. New companies are focusing on better ways to improve animal health as well as working experience for those in the industry; much of this work is piloted in Nebraska.
2020 Cattle Innovation Landscape
“Nebraska is the epicenter of beef production for the nation. We have some of the most innovative and forward-thinking producers in our state because of our importance. Our producers continue to integrate new technologies as they become available into their production practices. Nebraska’s beef industry is fortunate to have innovations to keep producers ahead of the curve.” Melody Benjamin VP of Member Services of the Nebraska Cattlemen.
One Combine Incubator startup, Ag Water Harvester, is in the early stages of studying how water purification methods from the oil and gas industry can be applied to the livestock sector. Another company working in the Combine Incubator, FarmAfield was recently awarded a Phase I SBIR grant from the Department of Energy to explore how solar can be better integrated into cattle operations.
Another major trend driving innovation in the sector include increased direct to consumer channels. This has been heightened with the COVID-19 pandemic and shows no signs of slowing in the near future. Crowd Cow, a direct to consumer marketplace for meat, has received backing from NFL legend Joe Montana.