An Iowa farm boy, with grassroots in agriculture, Diamond V CEO, Jeff Cannon, takes the role of feeding the world through modern food producing practices very seriously. He explains the measures Diamond V is taking to ensure safe and sufficient food availability.
Growing up on a farm in rural Iowa, Jeff Cannon always had meat in the freezer, vegetables in the refrigerator and access to an abundant supply of all sorts of ingredients. It is therefore unacceptable to him that people in the US and beyond are currently going hungry. In his role as CEO of Diamond V, a producer of natural feed additives, he feels it his obligation to explain to consumers about sustainable food production in the US and to ensure that they recognise that innovation and technologies are essential in achieving this. The company’s headquarters are in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the heartland of US agriculture. From here the company exports technologies and products, which are produced through a proprietary fermentation process, to over 60 countries around the world.
Jeff Cannon has been CEO of Diamond V since 2014, after entering the
company in 2004. His previous role was senior vice president of planning and business development. Prior to joining Diamond V, he was a partner in an international accounting firm and served as a business advisor to agricultural companies for 22 years,
including Diamond V. He completed his education in accounting at Mount Mercy College , Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
World Poultry: I’m presuming that Iowa means a great deal to you?
Jeff Cannon: “I am proud to have grown up here in the state of Iowa. We have a reputation for having a very solid work ethic and I think that comes from the farm background. I went to school locally in Cedar Rapids, obtaining an accounting degree. I was a partner in a national accounting firm for over 20 years and, during my tenure as a partner, I was involved primarily in business advice, merger and acquisitions, and consulting, and I worked specifically with agriculture companies.
Diamond V was a client of mine and I was responsible for it for many years. Then in 2004 I was approached by John Bloomhall, the president/CEO at that time, and one of the founding family members, who invited me to join Diamond V. It was a time in my career when I was ready for a new challenge, so I started with Diamond V. When John retired at the end of 2013, I became the first non-family president/CEO at Diamond V.”
Here in the US, just like in Europe, antibiotics are under increasing criticism and feed additives can play a role in their replacement. What is your take on that?
“Certainly everything associated with feed, including feed additives, medicated feed and antibiotics, are under constant review. There is a trend towards finding new ways to address some of the antibiotic concerns that consumers and our own industry have about sustainability, animal health and nutrition for animals. Diamond V has been investing for literally our entire existence, some 70 years, in identifying all natural ways that we can address the health and nutritional issues of all species of animals. I think recently that interest in the types of technologies that we have has certainly gotten more attention and this increase is encouraging us to be more innovative in the ways we look at the nutrition and health of animals. Through this, I think that we’re definitely in a very exciting and growth-driven time at the moment.”
For the last three years, as one of the first independent and privately owned companies, we have been involved in a partnership with the National Animal Disease Center (NADC) in Ames, IA. One of the purposes was to review the technologies and the products that we have here at Diamond V as a replacement for antibiotics. We’re at least offering one of the types of technologies that could help to mitigate and support nutritional regimens that would reduce, if not eliminate, the use of antibiotics.”
Are we going to feed 9 billion people in 2050?
“Absolutely. I think one thing that I’ve observed about agriculture in my life and in my career is that we are a very innovative and resourceful industry. We, as an industry, will address the growing population challenge through innovation, research and hard work. We all know the scenario – there’s limited resources and decreasing supplies of water and virtually all available land is in production. Innovation and technology will have to continue to develop and that includes the use of GMOs. I know that we have an ongoing discussion about GMOs and we have regulations and oversight over their use.
Jeff Cannon: "We as an industry,
will address the
growing population challenge through innovation, research and hard work."
I think, at the end of the day, GMOs will be accepted globally and more readily. Certainly we need to have more oversight to make sure that everything is done in a correct and appropriate way, but it’s technology like genetically modified seed and crops, it’s technologies like the types of things we’re developing here at Diamond V and other ingredient-additive companies and innovations across the entire value chain of agriculture that will allow us to meet that growing demand in the next 30 years.”
If you compare your products to others on the market, what makes Diamond V stand out?
“Our products are produced through a proprietary process of fermentation. Groups of ingredients are subjected to a fermentation process that has been developed over a period of time, resulting in something that is different than anything else in the marketplace. Our products include a wide array of all-natural biochemicals that we call nutritional metabolites. It’s a combination of these metabolites and the way that they interact with the digestive system and the immune system that creates the beneficial effects in production animals that we see with our products. We are not a single-compound product; we are not a certain strain of a probiotic; we are not a certain compound of a prebiotic; and we are not a single vitamin or a mineral or some isolated compound. Through our proprietary fermentation processes, we create this product that has all of these various different types of natural biochemicals that, in concert, become the active ingredients in our products. The products don’t have patents, but have been protected by trade secrets for over 70 years, so it’s very important for us to maintain the integrity of those trade secrets.
We are also a very research-oriented company with 10% of our annual revenue invested in research. This is equal to any pharmaceutical company. This investment has allowed us to produce a research library on our Original Line of products that really is second to none in the world. We have already been able to build a substantial library on the effect of our technol-ogies on the reduction of pathogens inside the animal, as well as pathogen loads that are excreted from the animal. Food safety is very important to consumers in the current market place, and is certainly important to all of us involved in the agriculture industry as well.
Further, we have invested heavily in a team of experts to collaborate with producers and the entire production chain, to make sure that we bring the best possible solutions. We do that through a number of additional expert services like facility management audits, nutrition formulation analysis and food safety audits, etc.”
What is your take home message to consumers?
“What we really do is help animals do more with less and in a safe way. There’s no negative side to that at all. If you have products and technologies that do this in a sustainable manner, then it’s a win-win. The world needs to embrace those types of technologies and not resist them. We can’t go backwards. I think that there’s a fallacy out there that, if we go backwards and do things the way they used to be done, it would be better. But in fact we’re living longer today than we have ever done before because we are improving our nutrition, we’re improving the quality of the food, we’re improving the safety of the food. It doesn’t matter what your economic status is, modern agriculture technologies help to benefit everyone.”
Spreading the word through movies
Diamond V has collaborated with other industry partners in a non-profit organisation to help educate the market place about modern agriculture. In the US less than 2% of the population is still actively involved in agriculture, so the consumer has gotten further away from farming thus creating a huge knowledge gap between consumers and producers. An idea to communicate better about where food comes from was to produce a feature length movie entitled 'The Ivy League Farmer'. Diamond V felt that scientific studies, documentaries and on farm videos seemed to be missing the mark on connecting with consumers on a more emotional basis and educating them in a manner that they're more accepting of. Arrangements are being made for the movie to be shown on a national cable network this Autumn. It will also be marketed through the internet, where it can be purchased online. Proceeds from the movie premiere in Iowa help support a local non-profit organisation which provides back-packs of food for school children who would otherwise not have enough to eat over the weekend.