As the effects of the planet’s warming temperatures become more pronounced, the meat and dairy industries are increasingly looking for ways to make their process more sustainable. Farmers are coming under pressure to do more to tackle their greenhouse gas emissions, with calls by consumers and investors for more transparency.
At a time when many governments are committing to net-zero emissions by 2050, and recommendations are being made for a diet high in plant-based food and low on animal protein as a way to help the environment and human health, many agricultural companies are being forced to address climate risks.
How to feed the world sustainably is a key theme on the executive education programs focused on agriculture offered by the world’s leading business schools. For more than 60 years, for instance, Harvard Business School has offered the Agribusiness Seminar, where executives from around the world come together to discuss the changing agribusiness landscape.
The four-day program, held annually in Boston, deals with the challenges stemming from the global pandemic, climate change, emerging technologies and political shifts. For Laura Mattiazzi, a regional general manager for Westpac Agribusiness — one of the four largest retail banks in Australia — the most valuable insight was that industry participants across the global food chain are facing similar challenges.
“These issues include combating climate change at the production level, mastering sustainability and traceability across supply chains, meeting chronic challenges in farm labor, seeking alternative solutions in technology, and navigating increasingly complex regulatory environments and global trade platforms,” she says.
Executive education: solving agriculture’s big problems?
Executive education presents an opportunity for the industry to work collaboratively to tackle and solve these issues. “You can’t put a price on the knowledge, insights, and network gained,” says Mattiazzi. “The program itself is not a value-for-money proposition; for me, it is a value-for-growth proposition.”
A number of business schools offer programs in agriculture. The Food Industry Executive Leadership Development program focuses on the natural products industry. Run by the Leeds School of Business, at University of Colorado Boulder, the program focuses on entrepreneurship, disruption, and profitable solutions to social and environmental challenges.
Elsewhere, New York’s Columbia Business School offers the Executive Training on Sustainable Investments in Agriculture, which provides an interdisciplinary approach to addressing the challenges and opportunities of agricultural investments.
Embracing technological disruption in agribusiness
Over in California, the USC Marshall School of Business runs the Food Industry Executive Program, an immersive four-day curriculum tailored specifically for food industry executives. The course focuses on elevating personal leadership and management skills. Participants learn the latest industry trends while networking with their peers.
“Our program addresses the latest issues in agribusiness, including climate change policies and geopolitical issues, particularly trade policy, tariffs, COVID-19 lockdowns, and the benefits of free trade for both agribusiness companies and the consumer,” says Shon Hiatt, associate professor of management and organization at USC Marshall.
Regarding climate change, the course focuses particularly on water issues and how this affects pricing. “ESG requirements and policies that price carbon will lead to increased pressure to contain price increases and maintain margins,” says Hiatt.
But she sees the growing sustainability focus in the industry as an opportunity. “Investors are hungry for highly-rated ESG companies,” explains Hiatt. “Creating company-specific ESG metrics that are material to the business and that longitudinally track over time can help agribusiness companies enhance their value.”
The program also has a strong focus on technological disruption and how participants can exploit the innovation for their benefit, such as robotics and automation for vegetable growing and harvest. “Likewise, blockchain presents itself as a useful way to track food all the way from the farm to the plate, and allow for carbon life cycle analysis,” says Hiatt.
“Carbon import taxes are on the horizon in the EU and possibly North America, and companies that are best at tracking their carbon footprint — from inputs to outputs — will be able to reduce their tax liabilities,” she adds.
Moreover, participants are also learning about greater automation for downstream delivery from the likes of Amazon Fresh, Instacart and Door Dash. “Increased online purchasing and direct-to-home delivery of food is increasing [the] bargaining power of retailers such as Walmart and Amazon,” says Hiatt.
“This will affect consumer packaged goods companies like General Mills and Nestle, who will have to decide how to work with them or go directly to consumers themselves.”