Jason Clay: "Thinking sideways produces better solutions"

Tension rises in the Nutreco Feed Tech Challenge. Great ideas for feedtech innovation keep pouring in. With the Challenge well underway, it is time to present the jury members who will eventually pick the winner(s) of the Challenge. In this blog jury member Dr. Jason Clay of World Wildlife Fund US explains what makes the Challenge so uniquely relevant to WWF’s agenda.

In WWF-US, I lead our work on markets and food as well as an institute to identify the biggest issues and trends coming that will affect WWF’s ability to achieve its mission. Over the course of my career I have seen the world’s food and feed issues from many angles. I have worked on a family farm and for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I have taught at Harvard and Yale. I even set up a trading company and helped Ben & Jerry’s create Rainforest Crunch – my favorite flavor – with sustainably harvested ingredients, as well as 50 other companies create 200 other products.

Being part of the jury of this Nutreco Feed Tech Challenge is important for me and for WWF. This Challenge is about finding more sustainable sources of ingredients across different feed sectors. For example, we need to find better alternatives to fishmeal and oil. We need feed additives that reduce methane emissions from dairy. These are just the tip of the iceberg.

These are not just technical issues. We also need to understand how we evaluate different technologies. It is my job to think, or to be more precise – to ‘think sideways’. To look at an issue and at proposed solutions from different angles. It is what scientists should do more often – look for things that work in one sector or geography but that also might serve in others. This is the attitude that I will bring to the jury.

Will this ‘thinking sideways’ work in feedtech? You don’t know until you try. In many areas, we have access to unprecedented data; we don’t always know how to connect all of it. We should learn to use today’s tools to make a step change in how we look at big data.

Having said that, I hope to see some interesting new theoretical concepts among the proposals in the Challenge. We need the brightest minds to help reduce the impacts of producing our material needs on the planet. I hope to entries that help solve more than one separate problem—a ‘twofer’ or a ‘threefer’. I will rank solutions highest that solve issues that affect different sectors.

What I mean by that is that I am not just thinking about feed. There is also the waste issue to consider. What goes in, must come out. And what comes out is a problem too. I read that The Netherlands, to reduce its waste problem, is going to cut its dairy cattle herd. That is unfortunately a very typical response. Wouldn’t it be great if someone found a way to feed the cattle more efficiently and reduce the waste problem at the same time. The Netherlands could have the same number of cows with fewer impacts.

If any contestant comes up with solutions of that type, I am sure the jury will be very interested!