At the Purina Animal Nutrition Center in Gray Summit, Missouri, our teams are committed to providing products and services that will unlock the greatest potential of every animal. That work is being led by Troy Wistuba, Ph.D., who recently took over as VP of Feed & Additive Technical Innovation. We talked with Troy about going from his small town to traveling the world to his journey to Purina. Plus, we got an inside scoop on the exciting projects happening right now on The Farm.
Q: First, we want to get to know a little more about you. You grew up in a small town in Kansas. Set the scene for us.
A: I grew up in a very rural part of Kansas. There were about 600 people who lived in town and only 21 kids in my graduating class. I was the first person in my family to go to college. I went to Kansas State University where I received a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science and then went on to get a Ph.D. from the University of Arkansas. After that, I moved to Eastern Kentucky to become a full-time professor at Morehead State University.
Q: What do you remember most about your time as a professor?
A: The university is in Appalachia. We’re talking about a region full of coal mines, hills and mountains. Only about 60-70% of people in that region could read so that’s the type of community the students came from. It was really enriching and rewarding to work with kids from that area. When I got there, we had about 150 kids enrolled in agriculture. By the time I left, there were over 900 students enrolled.
Q: When did you decide to transition to a new career and how did your life change after that?
A: I was 36 years old when I realized that I went as far as I could go as a professor. That’s when I got into the industry and went on to serve in nutrition technical service and research roles that took me to countries around the world. Six years ago, I moved to St. Louis to take over Purina’s Dairy Research and Technical Service and, most recently of course, I was lucky enough to be chosen as the VP of Feed & Additive Technical Innovation.
It’s been a really cool career that has allowed me to travel the world. I have worked on farms in countries like Australia, Mexico and Colombia. I also had a great experience working in Georgia through Venture37. You can make a lot of difference in a country like that.
Q: What got you interested in agriculture and animal nutrition?
A: I grew up on a mixed crop lifestyle farm. At 14, I started hauling and working cattle. I worked for vets on the weekends and did a lot of ranch work. I was passionate about it. I knew earlier on with my bachelor’s degree in Animal Science, I really wasn’t ever going to set the world on fire or make enough money to raise a family. My master’s degree was in Animal Science but was more focused on microbiology. Then my Ph.D. was all about how nutrition and immunology interact when it comes to animal health. So, what really started this was, “hey I like cattle,” but it’s grown into a career I am very proud of.
Q: You recently took over as VP of Feed & Additive Technical Innovation. Tell us a little about what that role entails and what’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned or seen so far?
A: I have oversight for the Purina Animal Nutrition Center, our working research farm outside of St. Louis, Missouri, including the research and technical services that are conducted across our portfolio. It’s really cool, but also a huge responsibility. [My role] covers all the livestock species, as well as the companion species. Part of my role is managing the research farm and another part of it is being involved in the corporate side of things—providing guidance on where we are going to take things in the future. Those have been some exciting discussions over the past six months.
I’ve gotten more information on how we manufacture and deliver feed than I ever intended. That’s a big piece of our business. I love to learn and apply that information to the knowledge I already have, hopefully adding some valuable insight.
Q: Can you talk about some of the most innovative work going on at The Farm?
A: Purina is usually a complete feed-focused company, but now we’re starting to focus more on additive research, so this is a shift in ideas.
If you’re unfamiliar, you can think of complete feed as what’s on your dinner plate—carbs, protein, vegetables. Additives, on the other hand, would be more like a supplement you might take.
We’re working a lot on those dietary supplement-type things. They not only are going to help with performance, but also stress and challenges. Animals, like humans, get stressed and secrete the hormone cortisone. This causes internal inflammation and issues with our normal oxidative balance. That leads to age lines, gray hair, all of that. Do we care if our animals get gray hair? Probably not as much as ourselves, but we are working on ways to provide nutrition that improves their health and longevity.
We also have projects focused on the microbiome. We have more bacteria on us and in us than we have actual cells. That bacteria has a huge influence on how our bodies interact with the nutrients we consume so we’re researching how to influence the bacteria that interact with the animal’s intestines, which then influences that animal’s health and performance long-term.
An example: Most probiotics you consume only have their effect while you’re consuming them. The probiotics we use in milk replacers, like baby formula, are given to the calves at- and near-birth and impact their microbiology up to 120 days later. It’s a huge influence.
Q: Purina’s work is driven by the goal to unlock the greatest potential of every animal. What goals does your team want to achieve in the next five years? Next 10 years?
A: We’re going to continue to work on improving animal health and performance across the livestock and lifestyle segments. We’re also working on sustainability. Most people quantify that as carbon emissions and methane because that’s what you read about. There’s a bigger picture and it’s called total nutrient management. It all deals with what we feed an animal, what the animal absorbs, what comes out of that animal and what we do with that manure and runoff longer term. Right now, fertilizer and nitrogen costs are going through the roof. Our goal is to find ways we can be more efficient with that nitrogen use and application and how we can help farms achieve better sustainability so that our food customers can be assured of what we’re doing and the performance we provide.
We’ve got a lot of cool things in the works for the future, and these are just a couple of them.