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Food Animal Initiative: Vision + Process

NC State FAI Turkeys
Students work with turkey's at the Turkey unit off Lake Wheeler road. Photo by Marc Hall

In a response to the need for innovation in food animal health and production, NC State University created the Food Animal Initiative (FAI). The world’s population will surpass 9 billion by 2050. To provide adequate nutrition, a 73% increase in food production is necessary. Since North Carolina is a recognized leader in food animal production, it makes sense that the innovation grows here. 

NC State’s multi-college FAI initiative is driven by the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) and the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM). FAI focuses on advancing the research and educational priorities of industry across four interdisciplinary platforms: Integrated Systems for Food and Animal Health; Digital Animal Agriculture; Protein Innovation; and Food Animal Agriculture Communications. 

We connected with Dean Richard Linton of CALS and Dean Paul Lunn of CVM to learn more about this important initiative. 

Why North Carolina?

NC State FAI Pigs in Pen
Students work in the swine unit off Lake Wheeler road. Photo by Marc Hall

Agriculture and agribusiness account for 17% of all North Carolina jobs, with animal agriculture making up 70% of North Carolina’s agriculture economy. North Carolina is ranked #1 for all poultry species and #2 for overall hog production nationally. In fact, NC State is the only university in the country that can provide comprehensive research for all food animal species, according to Dean Linton. 

What Is the Vision for FAI?

Most importantly, the goal of this initiative is to support the food animal agriculture industry. Dean Lunn states, “The vision came out of the two colleges’ desire to drive the elevation and performance around animal agriculture, specifically the control of infectious disease.” 

It’s essential to promote interdisciplinary partnerships that encourage and enable the study of all facets of the food animal industry, from farm production to processing. Dean Linton reiterates the importance of the partnership with the CVM, the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and food industry stakeholders: “Collectively, what we accomplish together is synergistically greater than the sum of its parts.”

How Will NC State Achieve the FAI Vision?

CALS and CVM leadership and faculty will collectively direct a research and education agenda in response to our animal food industry stakeholders’ interests, with an intentional focus on issues like labor, food safety, genetics, animals’ disease protection, and microbial resistance. 

Collaboration is the most important objective here. Dean Lunn says, “We achieve this vision by first connecting the faculty from the two colleges and then connecting with industry to understand its needs and create some synergy.” Dean Linton agrees with this way forward: “We’re having industry conversations, and we’re listening to ensure that we address their needs and ideas.” 

What Actions Are Already Underway?

NC State FAI Students Holding Chickens

While the initiative is in its infancy, FAI is making progress. Listening sessions with external stakeholders have been held; multidisciplinary teams across multiple departments have been established; and CALS and CVM Deans have provided funding for research, graduate student and national industry seminar support. 

Economic Feasibility Study

A 190-pg Economic Feasibility Study completed in February 2020 focused on ways the food animal industry can best support the North Carolina economy. The study has been shared with stakeholders to elicit their response, advising the best way to move forward. 

NC State Extension

An essential initiative action is conveying information through cooperative extension. The NC State Extension network is the 2nd largest in the country with 600 – 700 employees. FAI will produce research to create solutions, illuminate new information and accelerate technology, which will need to be transferred to stakeholders via cooperative extension networks. 

Animal Agriculture Symposium

FAI hosted the First International Symposium on Precision Systems and Data Analysis in Animal Agriculture on September 9, 2019. The symposium focused on the research and application need for automation and big data analysis in managing animal health, welfare and production. A second symposium is planned for Fall 2021. 

Golden LEAF Foundation Grant

The Golden LEAF Foundation has approved a grant for just under $1 million dollars over the next five years to support the Agricultural Institute (AGI) in the development and execution of new student training programs including: Agricultural Operations Certificate; Food Animal and Poultry Processing Curriculum; Peer Mentorship Collaborative; and Internship Support Program. 

What Is the Importance of the FAI?

FAI research will offer forward-thinking innovation for the food animal industry as well as drive new business opportunities. The FAI has the potential to economically impact the whole state of North Carolina, especially Tier 1 and Tier 2 Counties. 

As a land grant institution, NC State is mandated to enhance the economic vitality of the state and to provide solutions to NC stakeholders. This mission is central to both colleges as well. 

“Animal agriculture faces big challenges: some environmental and some around public perception and animal welfare. Other challenges include the spread of infection and disease as well as food production efficiency, says Dean Lunn. “These are the spaces FAI must work within to support and change animal agriculture. We will not be able to do business as we have in the past. We will need to focus on purpose, sustainability and public acceptance.”