Versova's Data-Driven Approach to Sustainable Egg Production

eggs

Formed in 2016, Versova has become one of the largest egg producers in the U.S. They have 1,350 combined employees on 9 family farms, all sharing a common set of commitments.

Versova and the farms that comprise the company are like many agricultural operations in the U.S. They adopted practices that fostered long-term sustainability because they made sense. Over time, the company came to recognize the additional value it could gain from defining and measuring sustainability in the most public way possible. Versova released its first sustainability report in 2023.

“If we don’t have a baseline, we’ll never know what or when to measure and how to improve.” - Emily Battilega, Director of Sustainability

Emily Battilega is the company’s first director of sustainability. She brings a unique understanding and perspective to the role, having previously managed the company’s operations in Oregon. She understood both the power of data and how to mine it, with the goal of accelerating further data collection and improvement.

Taking Those All-Important, Never-Easy First Steps

Versova modeled its work on priorities articulated by the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Poultry & Eggs (US-RSPE). This multi-stakeholder organization was created “to advance, support and communicate continuous improvement in sustainability for the value chain.” Versova is no stranger to US-RSPE or its mission. Doug Mack, COO at Versova, served as an active participant in developing the organization’s first-ever sustainability reporting framework for U.S. chicken, turkey and egg supply chains—from producer to the final customer.

“For our work, we decided to mirror USRSPE’s pillars of people, planet and poultry. We started off with the three categories and picked data points we could highlight for each of them,” said Battilega.

Versova was intentional in choosing data that would allow the company to learn and move forward. “Even though the data existed, we knew that we weren’t going to be able to report on every single metric we had for our operations,” said Battilega. “So, we picked some highlights, such as feed information, electricity use and waste. For less readily accessible information, I just said, ‘OK, we’ll do that a different year, but let’s just start small, easy and in order of importance.’”

Learn, Improve, Repeat

A lot of data had to be entered by hand. This process provided insights into the overall operations:

“Once I began reading those invoices, I started finding more ways that we could actually improve our operations. I found actual cost savings.” - Emily Battilega, Director of Sustainability

Moving forward, for example, accounting will input both kilowatt hours and the associated electricity costs. The company can then extract data more quickly and easily for ongoing reviews of usage and potential savings. The same is true for other key inputs. 

Next, Versova plans to use the data to develop monthly operational scorecards, which will be used to compare operations. This level of reporting poses challenges, but it has already paid off. “Once our employees saw that first sustainability report, I had people from many different parts of our operation—whether it be safety, human resources, accounting or the line level—say they had no idea our company did all this,” said Battilega.

The Role of Case Studies in Reporting

Ovation Farms offers a window into Versova’s commitment to continuous improvement. The company is evaluating two styles of cage-free layer housing at the Thompson, Iowa, farm to determine how each compares on a variety of sustainability metrics, including:

  • Feed and Water Consumption

  • Energy Use

  • Employee Safety Rates

“While the data collection will be ongoing, we are already seeing huge improvements with efficiency,” said Battilega. “The first improvement is in the labor needed to care for these birds. The design of these buildings makes it easier for our poultry caretakers to inspect the flocks and complete their daily tasks.”

The housing design also cuts labor hours at Ovation by half. Previously, the feed mill was on site, but workers still delivered feed by truck. The feed system has been remodeled, automating deliveries using a conveyor system to move feed from the mill to the chicken house. Versova also installed a state-of-the-art biosecurity room to limit potential contamination from workers, vehicles, equipment and visitors. There are 16 clean and comfortable shower facilities to ensure employee safety and privacy. As an added benefit, these biosecurity rooms have heated floors to minimize the impact of cold Iowa winters.

“Our sustainability program at Versova incorporates our care of our people, planet and poultry. The project at Ovation Farms is looking at how we utilize our resources most efficiently,” said Battilega.

Taking those all-important, never-easy first steps in reporting metrics. Sharing case studies of sustainability in action. These reasons and more are why Versova exemplifies the value of taking initiative when it comes to sustainability.

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