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Beef Industry Increases Outputs

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Madison, WI (Food Manufacturing, August 11, 2015): The United States' cow herd saw its highest numbers--132 million head--in 1975. Over the last 40 years those numbers have diminished, with the USDA reporting 89.8 million cattle within the country at the beginning of 2015.

Despite the four-decade decline in cow numbers, the beef industry has actually increased its outputs over time. This phenomenon is almost entirely thanks to the adoption of smarter, more resourceful animal husbandry techniques nationwide.

The adaptability of livestock producers and scientists is the reason for the beef industry's overwhelming success, despite increasingly limited resources. While there are still many obstacles to tackle, the industry's toughest challenge lies with its most essential lifeline: the consumer.

At this year's ADSA-ASAS Joint Annual Meeting, three outstanding cattle experts explored the ever-changing world of beef production and its customers. Their talks comprised the Beef Species Symposium, titled, "Keeping beef in the center of the plate: Meeting consumer demand in a period of reduced cattle numbers and increased prices." Drs. Daniel Thomson, Clint Krehbiel and Chris Calkins offered thought-provoking knowledge surrounding our modern beef industry and how to keep it thriving.

Methane Powered Tractor

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Turin, Italy (Associated Press, August 8, 2015):  Luca Remmert's dream of running a self-sustainable farm is within sight. He produces energy from corn and grain near the northern Italian city of Turin and hopes in the not too distant future to run all of his eight tractors on methane generated at the farm.

Remmert's 450-hectare (1,100-acre) La Bellotta farm has been testing a second-generation prototype of what will be the first tractor to run on methane, the T6 by New Holland Agriculture.

Methane would be 30 percent cheaper than diesel. And for farms that produce their own bio-methane, the costs of fuel would drop to nothing. Bio-methane is a type of gas that is produced by the processing of organic waste — something farms have a lot of.

The technology will likely be attractive to farmers in many developed economies, particularly those that are turning to the production of biofuel due to a squeeze on profits on food products.

"When the machinery is ready, I will be among the first customers," Remmert said recently at the farm, where New Holland was showing off the technology, scooping fermented biomass into the plant.

The methane-run T6 would hit production in about five years, according to New Holland, which is a subsidiary of CNH Industrial NV, a company spun off from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

Crops without Soil

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Gap (Lancaster Newspapers, August 9, 2015):  Innovation and new ideas don't always need fertile soil to take root.

For Sam Stoltzfus and Frank Fendler, co-founders of Aero Development Corp., they don't need soil at all.

Their company develops, manufactures and sells aeroponic growing systems for commercial and residential use — light-weight, no-soil vertical garden towers that can grow produce with far less space and water than conventional growing methods.

Aeroponics differs from hydroponics in that the plants' roots are suspended in air with no growing medium, fed by water droplets delivered with misters or running water.

Stoltzfus, who began working with aeroponic growing methods in 2010, says they've been successful by continually innovating and coming up with new ideas.

"We are always inventing," Stoltzfus says. "However, we feel we've come to a benchmark where we're very confident with what we have."

Since they patented their design last year, Fendler says their sales have doubled, although he declined to specify their amount of revenue. Now they're selling their systems in select locations across the country, as far afield as California.

Including Fendler and Stoltzfus, the company employs seven people full time and nine people part time.

Automated Lettuce Factory

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Madison, WI (Food Manufacturing, August 6, 2015):  A fully automated lettuce-producing factory has begun construction in Japan, food company Spread said on Aug. 3.

Spread already operates the world's largest vegetable factory using entirely artificial lighting, which is located in Kameoka, Japan. Now, they're working on a fully robotic factory capable of producing 30,000 heads of lettuce per day, with construction expected to begin in spring 2016 and lettuce grown in the new facility expected to ship in summer of 2017.

Their long-term goal is to produce 500,000 heads of lettuce per day in five years.

Spread Co., founded in 2006, produces "Vege-tus" brand lettuce. The new factory is designed to be responsive to water and food shortages caused by extreme weather and the increasing global population. Its environmentally friendly measures include recycled water, LED lighting and optimized air conducting.

Full automation – from seeding the lettuce to harvesting the heads – will cut down on the cost of production, Spread said. Complete automation reduces labor cost by 50 percent. The initial investment cost per head of lettuce was reduced by 25 percent compared to the investment cost per head at the Kameoka factory. Spread is looking beyond Japan, too: the new factory setup is designed so that the stable cultivation environment could be created in any location around the world.

Organic Food Companies Not Heavy Lobbying

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Madison, WI (Manufacturing.net, August 6, 2015):  Organic food companies continue to grow dramatically as consumers increasingly turn to healthier grocery options.

In at least one area, however, the conventional food industry maintained its complete dominance over the organic sector: Capitol Hill.

Politico reports that food and beverage industry giants combined to spend more than $36 million on lobbying in 2015, while some of the nation's most prominent organic and natural food companies did not employ any registered lobbyists to talk to lawmakers on their behalf.

The report compared the $35 billion organic food industry to Silicon Valley, another booming sector that tended to avoid political battles. Tech companies, however, increasingly became involved in Washington on issues ranging from telecommunications policy to immigration reform.

Proponents of the "good food" movement suggested that organic companies should consider taking a similar approach.

The House recently passed legislation that would ban states from implementing labeling requirements for foods produced with genetically modified ingredients, and other battles on dietary recommendations and school meals could also be fought with little to no input from those companies.

Women Underrespresented in Manufacturing

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Madison, WI (Manufacturing.net, July 31, 2015):  Women are underrepresented in almost every manufacturing-related field, despite the fact that they earn over half the advanced degrees in the U.S. According to a study released this past week, "Minding the Manufacturing Gender Gap," women make up the largest potential supply of untapped talent in the country.

The study shows that women still aren't equally represented in manufacturing, and the survey respondents feel that their industries don't do an adequate job of recruiting, retaining and advancing women.

The argument for making a bigger effort to actively encourage women to pursue roles in manufacturing is persuasive. The study reads, "Research shows companies with more diverse boards yield greater stock market returns adjusted for sector bias, and companies with higher female representation at the board level or in top management exhibit higher returns on equity, higher valuations and higher payout ratios."

Here's a look at how women are faring in manufacturing, by the numbers.

71: The percent of respondents who answered that their experience has caused them to believe that there is a pay gap between men and women in their industry.

The gender pay gap is a huge issue facing manufacturing; A Fortune article published earlier this year revealed that a list of job types with the biggest gender pay gaps disproportionately featured jobs found in the manufacturing industry.

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