Will we soon be eating meat that is not animal-based?

    There could come a day when one might find an aisle in the meat section of the grocery store devoted to alternative meat. Not veggie burgers, but a product that is considered meat and is not from an animal.

    Known as alternative meat, it is one of the three key trends that should be watched over the next 5 to 10 years because of its possible impact on the food chain, according to Lucas Frye, the speaker at The Chicago Farmers January 8, 2018, meeting. Frye, a 2015 University of Illinois graduate, is founder of Amber Agriculture, an agtech startup that automates farmers' grain management.

    Joining alternative meat as a key trend are gene editing and vertical farming, said Frye. He noted that the companies that are involved in these areas are focusing on themes that include the stories they have to tell, greater nutritional value and convenience. “These are themes that will be prevalent for the next five to 10 years among these trends,” said Frye. “The trends are not set in stone. They could slowly increase their impact on the food chain or they could fall flat, but these trends will dictate the conversation in food and agriculture.”

    Regarding alternative meat, Frye noted such companies as Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat, both produce alternative meat that is plant-based. “These companies create meat from scratch and want it labeled and sold as meat,” said Frye. “But words will escalate and impact the conversation. There will be battles about definitions. How will cattlemen respond to the words alternative meat? But these are companies that are exploring what happens if they design a new food system.

    He went on to say that the environment is an important element with these companies and they share the belief that animal agriculture is an evil. In addition to plant-based meat is lab-based meat. One company starts with a chicken feather and a petri dish to create meat. The lab-based meat is not scalable yet and costs $1,300 per pound. “These producers are centered on the story that they can share with the consumer,” said Frey. “They are not worried about the livestock producer; they are more worried about scalability and making the economics work.”

    Frye said the group is confident that it can create food, find the ingredients and not go through the cereal crop to do it. These groups are building software, databases and an ecosystem. “They have a story, they are focused on nutrition and will get the food to market in a convenient manner,” he related.

    Gene editing is the next trend to watch. It focuses on nutrition and its conversation is similar to the one involving GMOs. Companies like Calyxt are involved in gene editing, said Frye. Calyxt is focusing on building in the next three years new varieties of crops such as high fiber wheat and higher oil content soybean. These new varieties could help farmers command higher prices for their grain from buyers seeking higher composition values. It has partnered with the Farmers Business Network for distribution.

    The final trend Frye focused on was vertical farming. He pointed to Plenty Agriculture, which is a main player in this area. It uses efficient LED lighting that is strung vertically in warehouses and is able to grow fruit and vegetables. Its developers have indicated they can better control the nutrition of the crops and the cost, once the endeavor has become more scalable. “Plenty Agriculture claims it can build a factory and grow its crops in 30 days. Plenty can produce 16 crops in one year and can produce what regular production grows in a soccer field with only the space of the soccer net,” related Frye.

    “In all of these instances, the goal is to control the entire story, produce foods that have more nutrients and provide convenience to the consumer,” said Frye. “They are striving to prove their products taste better and the production process is transparent. If all of these ideas fail, they will resurface in the next 10 years or so. People will just keep trying new variations on these same ideas.”

    Frye explained that his company, Amber Agriculture, is leveraging the latest in sensing an analytic technology to help farmers capture high market prices. Currently the company is in test trials in Illinois and Canada and hopes to have the product on the market this fall.