March 27, 2023
ADM's Boon Kee Chew: The natural, holistic way to sustainability
The approach to sustainability in livestock production and feed formulations requires natural solutions — a view conspicuously expressed by ADM Animal Nutrition's Boon Kee Chew, vice-president of feed additives, ingredients and amino acids for the Asia-Pacific market.
Along with demands for agriculture to be less impactful on the environment, antibiotic overuse and antimicrobial resistance have also become contemporaneous issues. Chew, who speaks to eFeedLink during the VIV Asia 2023 trade show in Bangkok, Thailand, prioritises holistic problem-solving to these challenges.
Customised solutions to keep antibiotic use lower
Indeed, ADM possesses a range of natural products to help livestock producers "wean off antibiotics," but "it's not just about products," Chew says. "It is about understanding the entire challenges of the customer. Once they stop using antibiotics, there is a transition during which production efficiency could drop, and this is normal."
By employing ADM's natural solutions as antibiotic alternatives, it is hoped that producers would eventually achieve a level of efficiency similar to previous performance targets.
"(This approach) may cost a little more to produce animals, but it would be good for everyone," Chew remarks.
ADM's in-feed management programme further aids in mitigating antibiotic use in livestock. It entails precision nutrition to help feed formulation specialists switch to functional feed additives.
"ADM looks at precision nutrition as a strategy of tailoring feed rations to meet an animal's nutrition requirements," Chew explains. "This might be in early life nutrition or a sow programme."
The in-feed management programme, he describes, is an "amalgamation of all (feed) specialists" that ADM works with. It will ensure customised programmes are available for customers planning to lower antibiotic use. They are "gradual processes" that serve to achieve the outcome, Chew adds.
The programmes can only work due to the "quality and delivery" of ADM's solutions, he attests. "It is not to say antibiotics have no place at all," Chew clarifies. "Antibiotics should only be used when it is necessary. It should be targeted at animal health needs, and not for growth promotion."
Nevertheless, the clarion call for antibiotics to be removed from food production's equation means more innovative solutions have to step in. In this direction, ADM's research and development on functional feed additives (also known as natural feed additives) leads to "more sophisticated" products, Chew says.
"What kind of products is ADM looking for in terms of an overall solution to replacing antibiotics? Basically, we have a portfolio of bioactives which I would also like to call "standardised plant extracts"," he states. "For each plant extract, there are many that do not have a standardised concentration. It (irritates) formulators because it is difficult to formulate with a product that is not standardised."
Chew is quick to point out that "it's not just about standardisation," but also "the technology behind" ADM's plant extracts.
He highlights how the Iso-Fusion encapsulation technology plays a part in enhancing product quality.
"With this encapsulation, ADM's palatants, bioactives and minerals are very stable when they go through the pelleting process," he explains.
Meeting sustainability goals through ADM's subsidiaries
ADM has various services "to help livestock producers maintain sustainability from economical and environmental standpoints," Chew says.
These include feed additives (palatants, phytogenic bioactives and organic trace minerals), farm management, premixes and near-infrared spectroscopy, or NIR services, and feed brands like Ocialis (aquaculture feeds).
"For the aquaculture segment, we have Ocialis' BIOSIPEC (Bio-Secure Shrimp Intensive Production Environmental Control system), a shrimp production model to help farmers in the Asia-Pacific," Chew says. "This model is focused on water quality, specialty feed, aeration and more."
There is also ADM's Upscience laboratory which offers NIR services, thus delivering "rapid analysis and control of feed formulations." Additionally, ADM has developed the Equadvice database "that can monitor changes in ingredient quality," Chew notes. "Equadvice calculates feed formulations to more accurately match nutrient supply to a variety of livestock."
Those innovations "are data-driven recommendations" that can help maximise production efficiency. This can be in terms of, for example, feed conversion ratio and average daily weight gain, Chew adds.
The benefits of the solutions address some of the livestock and feed industries' perennial issues: nutrition quality and raw material prices.
"What we do is that we look at feed quality and digestibility (which can fluctuate due to inconsistencies), Chew says. "(Our solutions are thus) touching on the sustainability side, specifically, in reducing the environmental impact of feed production — the carbon footprint of crop cultivation, transport and processing — as well as mitigating carbon emissions by animals and their excretions into air, soil and water."
Nutrition is the key
When asked if there can be a feasible feed strategy centered on a few selected grain and feed types that are more affordable, Chew elaborates on the complexities relevant to this approach.
"I want to emphasise that animals require nutrients, not ingredients," he remarks. "Whether you are looking at formulation or precision nutrition, it's all about nutrients."
With certain raw materials being less available, or costlier, sourcing these resources has become more onerous for producers. Worse, they may not fulfill the specifications that they are acquired for.
"One cannot be perfect all the time with raw materials," Chew quotes what a longtime ADM customer told him. Hence, producers need to "look at alternatives" apart from the raw materials usually depended on.
These substitutions can only be viable if the entire nutrient profile of the raw material — "and how it applies to each (livestock specie)" — is considered, Chew adds.
"It's a complex issue but our industry is mature enough to understand what needs to be done in terms of alternatives to the raw materials used," he says. Particularly, one way to deal with the challenge is by making alternatives more accessible to both producers and their livestock.
For instance, some raw materials may be less appealing to animals taste-wise, but they can be made more palatable (in this regard, ADM develops palatants for animal feed). Referring to the anecdote with the longtime customer, Chew says the customer is pleased that the ADM had taken "great pains to look at the flavour and masked" unpleasant aspects of a raw material's taste.
"This customer becomes a customer for life," he says. "This is what we do for customers."
Tailored solutions, the holistic approach
The philosophy of ADM's problem-solving rests on a holistic manner of tackling issues.
"It's very important that we have tailored solutions for our customers," Chew says. "We cannot say that we have a solution that applies to everybody. They have to be very customer-centric."
Outside ADM's intervention, Chew recommends regular interaction between producers and their nutritionists "to reevaluate their feed strategy and assess whether they are in line with their performance objectives."
Digital tools have also become vital means for ADM to offer advice on relevant issues like feed performance and nutritional value.
"We provide customers high-quality data, real-time insights, customised recommendations and innovative nutritional solutions," Chew says, reiterating that these have to be applied with a holistic approach.
"We cannot just have one or two solutions. It has to be a total approach in what we do and the solutions we offer," he says.
- Terry Tan, eFeedLink