The road that has led Alltech - an international company that produces agricultural products for livestock and crop farming - to become a more relevant player in modern agriculture started in 1980 as the late Dr. Pearse Lyons founded the business.
Dr. Mark Lyons
While at first making products for alcohol production, Alltech later turned its focus to animal nutrition in 1983, and its knowledge of yeast development led to the creation of the Yea-Sacc(R) yeast culture for dairy cattle. By the 1990s, the company expanded beyond the United States (as well as the United Kingdom and Ireland) and sought to enter three new countries every year in all regions of the world. “The 1990s was really when we came to Asia,” says Dr. Mark Lyons, president and chief executive officer of Alltech, and the son of Dr. Pearse Lyons.
During a visit to Singapore, Dr. Lyons tells eFeedLink that Alltech has desired to have its own local offices in respective international markets. Alltech teams based in these countries are managed by local residents who can adapt solutions for domestic needs. “In Thailand, we have six (Thai employees) who have been with Alltech for about 20 years in our office there, taking charge of a team of 40,” Dr. Lyons says. The company continues to solidify its regional and industrial presence by completing more than 20 acquisitions internationally since 2010. Among these was the 2016 acquisition of Irish farming solution manufacturer KEENAN, which provided Alltech with the KEENAN mixer wagon and InTouch applications for enhanced feed management.
However, in Asia, Alltech has yet to realize any acquisition even though “we are always saying Asia is the future,” Dr. Lyons remarks. Nevertheless, it could happen soon. “If we are here in five years and I’m still saying that we have not made any acquisitions in Asia, then I have not achieved what I need to,” Dr. Lyons says. “But I would say we would have a dozen by then.” He refers to the “long relationships and partnerships with many Asian businesses,” and how this longevity avails the opportunity for joint ventures.
SUPPORTING CUSTOMERS THROUGH LOCAL PRESENCE, DIGITAL TECH AND RELATIONSHIPS
“Looking back, you can see we focused on expanding our production base. We have built larger production plants, expanded geographically and established a very strong footprint,” Dr. Lyons remarks, reflecting on the four decades of Alltech’s journey. “The business is also focused on how we get the most of the feed and feedstuff, and empower users of our nutritional and service solutions to have more control over what they are doing.”
He notes, specifically, Alltech’s overseas production sites that make tailored products for countries where they are based at. These facilities also ensure stable production and supply in those respective markets. “Having local presence means we can be agile and we can respond to customers’ needs,” Dr. Lyons says. “During the pandemic, we saw certain challenges [for example, disrupted supply chains] playing out, and it was a massive benefit for us to have local productions.”
As for empowering feed producers to maximize the potential of production, Dr. Lyons considers digital technology as one area that can help the industry, and which Alltech is “very open to partnering in.” “We have a number of different ways, systems and businesses that are looking into data management,” he highlights. He points to Alltech subsidiary KEENAN’s InTouch application, which can capture all data in a mixer wagon and allow the nutritionist outside the farm to communicate with the farmer in real time.
Dr. Lyons believes more relevant apps and digital technology concepts would come in the future. However, there is a need for a general platform to house these technologies, which could also help in creating environmentally beneficial products.
Additionally, Alltech’s products and services should also be appropriate and affordable for end users. “We can do our nutrigenomics research at a lab but what’re the farmers going to do with this,” Dr. Lyons says. Hence, Alltech is investing significantly in the development of digital applications which can truly give farmers “a better sense of what’s going on.” The company also aims to keep certain products affordable for some customers including independent and medium-sized feed millers. This requires Alltech to set a price “that our customers are comfortable with,” Dr. Lyons notes. “Take mycotoxin management, for example, we have products that can be used in high-risk situations,” he says. “We also have lower cost products for lower risk situations, and that could alleviate some issues if not all of them. But at least, they are affordable.”
That Alltech wants both small and big industry players to have access to its solutions comes from the fact that it considers itself an enabler, rather than simply selling products. “Whatever we can do, whatever leverage we can pull out of the industry, we do that. That’s our mission,” Dr. Lyons affirms. “It could be adopting other parties’ technologies; it could be pushing different types of measurement systems. Whatever the case may be, this is a broader way of thinking and that’s opening up a lot of opportunities.”
Furthermore, Alltech prioritizes the relationships it has with its customers; in fact, during the pandemic, it transited from a transaction-based relationship to one more oriented toward “partnership with our customers and suppliers,” Dr. Lyons says. “We are telling our teams that a part of our responsibility is understanding (our customers’) uncertainties and fears, and thinking about ways to minimize those in the areas that we can control,” he adds. “There’s a lot going on in the world that we cannot control, so how do we control the controllable?”
That’s especially the case as the world is not perfect, Dr. Lyons states. “We are going to have disruptions. There are things we could have done to alleviate the overall impact and increased costs (due to the war in Ukraine). “At the same time, we have to face facts, whether it is concerning food security, regional security, or utilizing what we have locally and shortening supply chains. “Our job, therefore, is to enable producers to have as much power in the situation as possible.”
THE ALLTECH APPROACH UNDER A PLANET OF PLENTY
To deal with the challenges of today’s troubled world, there needs to be “something that can unite” Alltech and its subsidiaries, which number more than 20, according to Dr. Lyons. That desire led to the birth of Alltech’s “Working Together for a Planet of Plenty” vision, which - in Dr. Lyons’ words - is about “producing enough nutritious food for a growing planet and doing it in a very responsible way for society and the environment.”
It takes leadership responsibility to declare that many long-term trends associated with environmental sustainability are here to stay, he states. “These are the things we have to focus on and move forward irrespective of the short term,” he emphasizes. “As a private business, we need a longer-term view… we also should not ignore very real, significant changes that are happening to our customers.”
Indeed, some challenges in agriculture continue to be pressing issues in some parts of the world. These issues include excessive antibiotic use and limited availability of raw materials.
To help bring down antibiotic use, the employment of different technologies could support the effort but would need “a little more work,” Dr. Lyons says. “Step by step, we have seen that it’s probably the best way to go: determining how much antibiotics we are using, which solution is the best and how we adopt some programs.”
In that area, Alltech has succeeded “to reverse antibiotic resistance in the (animal) microbiome through our programs,” Dr. Lyons points out. “That’s very impactful for the people working (on farms)… from a worker safety perspective, it’s actually the people within the production system (who matter) as they are in contact with bacteria that have resistance or with the antibiotics themselves.” He adds: “Basically, we have to increase the nutritional levels provided for animals so that they can be healthier and have a better immune system. I think there are a lot of different things we can do here.
As for raw materials, Dr. Lyons notices that it has been a repeated theme for people to acknowledge how their countries are so dependent on imports that sudden increases in prices can affect their supplies. He suggests that there can be a more judicious purchasing of raw materials. “We can (reduce the risk) in terms of not always relying on imported soybeans, for example,” Dr. Lyons remarks, highlighting insect protein as a promising alternative for animal feed. Ultimately, the Planet of Plenty vision entails industry players working together for a common good. “As part of the agri-food chain, we need to be cooperating more to overcome the challenges,” Dr. Lyons says.
Yet, even with the importance of encouraging environmentally conscious food production, it should not come at the expense of production performance. “It’s kind of a balancing act, and I think it’s similar to the pandemic which has heightened the intensity we need in our conversation [to address the relevant issues],” Dr. Lyons adds.
REMEMBERING DR. PEARSE LYONS
It’s axiomatic that in the past decades, Alltech has made remarkable strides to become a more valuable player in improving modern agriculture. However, as one who grows up with the business, “you tend to take for granted doing something new and (experiencing) growth,” Dr. Lyons reveals. Already at a very young age, he had accompanied his late father, Alltech founder Dr. Pearse Lyons, on business trips - experiences that might have shaped the way he directs the company’s journey.
Dr. Lyons remembers his father’s foresight, tenacity and fearlessness as key elements of his character behind the company’s success. “Dr. Pearse Lyons saw the future we have right now: supply challenges, inflation and all these other factors coming in,” Dr. Lyons says. The older Lyons was also a “great” marketer and communicator with “extraordinary” resilience and focus.
One anecdote Dr. Lyons shares about his father involves a speech made in the 1990s by a professor regarding responsible antibiotic use. Dr. Pearse Lyons had apparently taken parts of the speech and used it in a magazine advertisement, declaring that “it is unethical or even immoral to use antibiotics in feed,” Dr. Lyons recalls. “We got calls from customers who told us there’s no need to come back,” he laughs.
However, there is certainly an inspiration to be taken from Dr. Pearse Lyons’ boldness to rock the boat. As Dr. Lyons explains, this was how his father broached uncomfortable subjects if they proved to be very critical and needed to be addressed. “It was one of those things my father always had to do: he’s always taking lead,” Dr. Lyons says. “He’s kind of fearless in a way. It’s his way of saying: “This is the reality we are in, and we know that we have ways to produce meat products without antibiotics in the system.”
Dr. Pearse Lyons’ legacy is synonymous with that of Alltech, and it is without a doubt that his values, principles and lessons will stay with the company for a very long time. Alltech is now in the hands of his son who is facing a world more complicated than the one Dr. Pearse Lyons knew. But the younger Lyons is confident of the company’s ability to overcome challenges as they come. He quotes his father’s favorite phrase: “Don’t stress about the stuff you can’t control and focus on the things you can.”