Open-source data drives every 21st century business, why not the pork industry?

An Interview with Bradley Wolter, Ph.D.

An animal’s DNA is the rawest form of biological potential. Other critical investments in nutrition, health and other disciplines help us prioritize our genetic objectives. It’s all in concert together, not in isolation. Working with partners opens opportunities for shared learnings to move the pace of business forward, faster. I believe this is our competitive advantage. 

Working inside The Maschhoffs to design the best pig for their system has given us the opportunity to understand how these resources, when leveraged correctly, drive the most value. Taking those learnings and applying them to other commercial producers is what we’re doing now. 

I sat down with Dr. Bradley Wolter, The Maschhoffs President, to talk about what we’ve been working to create for the last 10 years. 

Dr. Schwab: Our investments have occurred over time, and in conjunction with other production factors. We chose genetics as a core investment, but didn’t allow ourselves to be siloed there. There were other competencies that we brought alongside, but work in concert with the raw genetic material. But, everything was driven by the animal necessary for this system. We got here with a long term focus in mind — how did genetics become that core focus? 

Dr. Wolter: As a legacy business, The Maschhoffs have a long term commitment to the pork industry. With that comes decisions designed for longevity and future business potential, not just short term success. Enter genetics. While we took a multidisciplinary approach to pig and system improvement, our teams had a central focus on maximizing animal potential starting from the foundation: the animals’ genetics.

Genetics was a thoughtful, but easy, choice with a futuristic mentality because it is your biggest limiting factor.

Your animal is only as good as it is genetically allowed to be,

so while there are other quick result areas we could have focused on, genetics is what makes sense for our business longevity. And for the industry longevity.

The key is maximizing profit potential of the animal in the environment that you plan to operate within. Understanding the interaction with the system and the animal can change your choice in traits or your emphasis on traits. That’s where the Commercial Test Herd came about —  an iterative, continuous improvement process for evaluating that genetic potential.

It’s all based on the belief that the animal sets the opportunity for success.

This partnership also allows us to take a scientific based approach rather than being driven by a sales plan. If Acuity doesn’t deliver value, we aren’t holding up our end of the bargain. But, we have to implement the genetic resources the right way. And that is where this partnership really works, working towards the same goal — commercial results you can see and feel. Genetic programs don’t get credit until their outcomes show up on the commercial P&L. We’ve seen and learned that the pork industry can adapt and change, but a true competitive advantage is learning, adapting and applying that innovation for consistent outcomes. So, why did we take this offering outside of The Maschhoff walls? Why not keep it for ourselves? 

Fair question. We wanted to partner with the commercial industry as we believe that the pig will only continue to get better. The more systems that our genetics can be incorporated into, the more foundational genetic progress that can be made.

Twenty years ago when I came to the company, I would have had the mentality that we need to keep it to ourselves and protect our IP, our competitive advantage. However, my paradigm has shifted.

We are in the 21st century with information flowing in open access, and we believe that you get what you give. The learnings and value associated with sharing brings more back — the right partnership with the right focus nets more in the end.

We want to work with partners that have the same belief that open access to data is a long term opportunity for everyone. Now, sharing data, learnings and information is different from application.

How you choose to apply the lessons is your own competitive advantage. 

That’s the important takeaway for me. It’s why we’ve gone to the lengths we’ve gone to with this investment. We know that genetics shouldn’t be driven by a sales goal or what the market is willing to pay for today, but by the business objective and the long term goals of achieving the highest value. If we can partner with like minded people, we’ll get there faster.

I agree with you. There is a common question surrounding why Acuity became its own company. The answer is simple: We want to turn information into value. Data is easy to come by, but what you can do with that noise is where you can develop an edge and challenge the industry. What we learned in our longevity in pork production is that you have to convert data into insight, and apply it for better business decisions.

Yes, we went down the path of genetic improvement through partnerships to get us to where we are today, and we have a longterm commitment to continue doing that. We hope our commitment is mirrored by other commercial producers.

Bradley Wolter, Ph.D.

Bradley holds multiple degrees from the University of Illinois: a Bachelor of Science, Masters in Swine Production Management and a Doctorate in Swine Growth and Development. He joined The Maschhoffs in 2002 as Director of Research and Technology. Bradley is currently serving as President of The Maschhoffs, as well as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Illinois.