Interview: Stakeholders views towards the use of precision technologies in livestock farming

Paul Ingenbleek & Caspar Krampe (Wageningen University & Research)

Dr. Paul Ingenbleek, who leads working package 1 of the ClearFarm project, and Dr. Caspar Krampe are experts on Marketing and Consumer Behaviour from Wageningen University & Research (WUR). Together with other European partners of the ClearFarm project, they conducted and applied (participative) research approaches with consumers and other key stakeholders of the value chain of pig and dairy cattle, in order to design market-based solutions that are at the basis of the ClearFarm platform. To gain a better understanding of their work, we asked them about their research:

Which are the objectives of the first work package of the ClearFarm project?

ClearFarm aims to develop a platform based of precision livestock farming (PLF) technologies that will collect data from different sensors on animal welfare, making it possible to provide the processed information to farmers, retailers, consumers and other players along the value chain. To achieve this, the perspectives of all the stakeholders have been involved in the developmental process from the beginning onwards, to design innovative solutions in the pig and dairy cattle value chains.

Our objective is, therefore, to study the needs and preferences from consumers and other stakeholders to find solutions that increase the awareness of animal welfare in the products they consume, produce or sell. By doing so, the identified needs, demands and concerns lead to innovative solutions of how to develop a useful platform in which consumers and other stakeholders can easily receive and use the data they need.

We strongly believe that sharing animal welfare information, collected with PLF, with consumers is potentially the most radical change that the ClearFarm system can provide.

How ClearFarm solutions could help consumers in their shopping decisions?

In the conducted focus groups, consumers expressed their wish for ‘more and better information’ on the farming conditions and animal welfare. Nowadays, there are no EU harmonised systems of animal welfare labelling for most of the dairy and pork products, making it particularly difficult to compare animal welfare standards across European countries. In addition, consumers mentioned that the large number of labels placed on the products confuses them. Consequently, consumers indicated the need for a simplified system that helps them to make decisions with regards to animal-based products that are in line with their preferences. Against this background, we are working on solutions that simplify the consumers’ purchase decisions for pork and dairy products.

Given that the ClearFarm system receives PLF data, the system can assist consumers in their decision-making processes for dairy and pork products, allowing them to indicate their product related preferences that can be matched with the PLF data collected for a respective animal-based product. For example, through an app, consumers can register their animal welfare preferences; by scanning dairy or pork products in the supermarket, they can find the products that fit to their indicated preferences. So, the system could enable consumers to make decisions based on their preferences, receiving only the information or product suggestions they prefer and want.

What are the benefits for retailers?

The more data you can gather about your customers, the better equipped you are to provide them the products they are looking for. If consumers share their preferences within the ClearFarm app, companies of the supply chain may take advantage by knowing what they customers ask for with regards to animal welfare products. This can help them to optimise the production processes, as only products that fulfil the customers’ requirements are produced.

The ClearFarm platform might, therefore, strengthen the role of animal friendly produced products in the food system.

Handling the collected data is a critical and ethical point. How can the collected data be validated, secured and protected within the ClearFarm system?

Data security is indeed crucial. Questions like: Where does the data come from? Who is responsible for the data? Who owns the data? What is done with the data?; are therefore fundamental and need to be carefully considered, when developing the ClearFarm system, which serve all stakeholders of the value chain.

One idea –that has been developed during the online workshops–  is that a new and independent organisation, considered as an intermediary between data providers and data users, manage the ClearFarm system. The board of this organisation may consist of representatives of the key stakeholder groups, namely the most important data providers, in particular farmers; but may also integrate other value chain actors working with live animals such as processors or retailers; as well as data users, such as AWOs, consumer organisations, commercial parties, farmers, policy-makers and consumers itself.

How do farmers react to developed ClearFarm solutions?

This is part of our current task within the first working package of the ClearFarm project. In this task we are conducting several quantitative online surveys to see how farmers and consumers evaluate the developed solutions.

How do you ensure that the results of work package 1 will find a translation to a technological solution?

The result of our research work provides detailed blueprint solutions for the ClearFarm system, on which a relevant platform for the whole production chain of pigs and dairy cows can be build. We, consequently, set a framework that is defined by the stakeholders needs and requirements in order to develop a useful platform for the food system that provide a better care for farm animals.

The challenge now is to link this frame to existing technologies. Aspects that will be focused on in the next steps within the ClearFarm project.