Cloud, Amazon Web Services (AWS)
Oblivion | Part of Xebia
DSM’s Sustell enables farmers to measure their environmental footprint and test ways to improve it. The service uses over 700 data points and internationally certified calculation methodologies to provide the most accurate analysis to help farmers make the best environmental and business decisions. The system runs on AWS which has allowed rapid development, while also being ready for instant scalability as demand grows.
DSM and Oblivion Power Green Feed Calculator on AWS
DSM Animal Nutrition & Health worked with Blonk Consultants and Amazon Web Services (AWS) Premier Partner offering consulting services Oblivion to help farmers radically reduce the environmental footprint of their animal production. DSM takes sustainability seriously and has group-wide ambitions to transform and improve its business and help its customers do the same. Sustell, effectively a start-up business within DSM, spent several years working with Blonk Consultants, experts in the field of agri-footprint measurement, to create a way to analyze a farm’s complete environmental impact to find ways to reduce this footprint. Sustell helps farmers measure not just carbon emissions but also water use, climate change impact, and air pollution. In total it considers 19 separate environmental categories—the full environmental footprint. The system allows the farmer to run virtual scenarios to see how to reduce these impacts by making nutritional and management interventions to the farming system.
Data for Insight and Audits
“There is a real need for this sort of service from our customers, the animal farming industry and the wider value chain. Increasingly people want to be able to do something practical to make a positive environmental impact. Ten to 30 percent of personal carbon emissions relate to food and there is a willingness from consumers to pay more for credibly measured and certified lower carbon food—people want that choice and this is starting to be tested at retail level,” says David Nickell, Vice President of Sustainability and Business Solutions at DSM Animal Nutrition and Health. “Farmers cannot improve what they don’t measure—this solves that problem. But farmers will increasingly need to prove their environmental impact to licensing bodies and regulators in order to operate and get subsidies. They will need to be able to prove to supermarkets and other buyers that they have a low environmental footprint.”
In addition, Nickell says banks need to understand the sustainability related risks they are taking on with certain businesses, while ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) investors want to understand how farms are run: “Sustell can provide the proof.” And, despite claims about the carbon impact of livestock measured globally, Nickell notes there are startling differences between different production systems. While global estimates report 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock, in some farming systems this can be significantly lower. So it is in the interest of progressive farming businesses to calculate their own environmental impact, using their own data, and not be judged by global averages.
Small Changes Big Benefits
The Sustell platform is designed to help DSM consultants demonstrate the practical impact of relatively simple changes. “We did debate giving farmers direct access. But at this early stage we’re still responding to farmer feedback and going through sprints to improve the system,” says Jeroen Akkermans, Director of Digital Strategy at DSM. “But at a certain point, in order to truly scale and to really help the world, the idea is that any farmer will be able to use it without expert help.” The system lets the customer change variables, such as the source or ingredients used in the feed, or the production parameters, such as animal performance, and farm practices, such as manure management—and see the resulting impact on yields and the environment. Sustell uses the APS-footprint calculation engine from Blonk Consultants to work out the impact of the strategic decisions the customer makes.
For the life cycle analysis, Sustell uses real farm data and internationally certified calculation methodologies to provide the most accurate possible analysis of these complex systems. It uses 700 separate data inputs to make its calculations, and accurately create ‘what if’ scenarios. For animal protein producers, nutrition is responsible for up to 80 percent of a farm’s environmental impact, so accurate measurement and relatively small changes can bring big benefits. Part of the reason for choosing to run Sustell on a serverless solution from AWS was itself driven by sustainability. AWS services were one way to reduce the energy use and carbon footprint of the technology estate the system requires. It is also highly scalable and flexible, which suits a start-up project with ambitions for rapid growth. Andres Koetsier, Cloud Native Development Practice Lead at Oblivion Cloud Control, says the actual development of the platform went very smoothly, but that learning about animal nutrition, sustainability, and environmental impacts were a whole new domain of knowledge for the team. The three companies worked well together.
Koetsier says DSM was keen to create a developer-oriented and high-level stack of AWS services and tools to run Sustell on in order to increase its in-house skills and keep a tight control on costs compared to a more traditional infrastructure. This design also provided a system which was highly scalable but required only minimal maintenance and management. Even as the system scales up to many more users, costs should remain quite stable because it is serverless. The fact it was built in a modular fashion means it is easy to add extra modules and farming modules over time—it added five animal modules in just three months. While the actual calculation engine is specific, the systems built around it and how very complex data is presented in an easy-to-understand way, provides possible parallels for other industries and other business areas of DSM. Early users of Sustell are providing vast amounts of data, which is fuelling further improvements in its modeling and analysis. At the moment this is improving human expertise but there is a clear opportunity for artificial intelligence to play a role later on in spotting similar farming systems and making recommendations based on other customer experiences. Sustell could become a platform which integrates with other partners too in the evolving animal farming digital landscape.