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
Writer: Jonathan Dyble | Project Manager: Matt Selby
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”