Since the first day our founders wandered onto a ranch and convinced our first customer we could improve their operation by using computers and data analysis, Where Food Comes From has continued to look for applications of technology within the food industry. Automating processes at a ranch or feedlot, experimenting with drones, digitizing stock and utilizing cloud-based data management platforms are all innovative ways you can keep an eye on an operation.
But today, we take a look into Blockchain – the newest buzzword you keep hearing about! So, what is blockchain? To keep it simple, a “blockchain” is a type of cloud-based database that stores data records. For all things food related, a blockchain would begin with a food producer submitting information into this database – a food producer could be a tomato or lettuce grower, a cattle or pig producer or even a flower farmer! As their products move through the supply chain to the retailer, new data would be uploaded along the way and by the time it made it’s way to a retail store, they’d be able to trace it back to the producer.
So, while blockchain technology clearly enables a whole host of new data sharing capabilities post-production, it will also intensify the importance of verifying data at the point of production.
Over the past few years our teams have been fielding several questions regarding blockchain as it relates to the food industry and, as with a number of technology improvements before it, we’ve kept a keen eye on this revolutionary technology. In many ways, blockchain is unique and will no doubt change how information is exchanged among stakeholders of any supply chain. One thing however has become abundantly clear and that is as blockchain enables new data sharing capabilities after a producer ships off their product, it will also intensify the importance of ensuring that the data that was submitted is accurate.
Advantages to Blockchains in the Food Industry
First, they will enable various stakeholders to both add to, as well as view, elements of a products journey from production to consumption. Instead of getting a whole bunch of systems to talk to one another, blockchain solutions offer a data layer that can sit across all of them.
This is powerful because currently, a product moves through many different systems and databases as it makes it’s way from a producer to a processor to a retail store. This current reality makes it difficult to share information along the way, as each system requires a link to another, or heaven forbid requires someone to repetitively enter the data at each step manually. Blockchain can automate this, which would optimize costs and effort along the way. The journey through the supply chain will be more detailed than ever with the combined advances in electronic tagging and labeling that enables location, temperature and proximity and more to be known. These details will empower all forms of continuous improvement along the way.
Blockchain solutions will also enable consumer and retail visibility of a products journey like never before. Retailers will be able to tell the story of a true farm-to-table journey in such a way that has not been done before. There are still several industry challenges at the processor level where much is turned into individual shelf-ready packages, however having a chain-wide platform may very well enable solutions through that step.
Second, tracking blockchain data is done in such a way that is referred to as “immutable,” meaning that no single party can change the history of the data. Blockchain keeps a public record of everything that is entered into it – and it is important to note that the data submitted is not currently verified by anyone except the person that is submitting it.
For instances of public safety and having an indisputable, or at least publicly agreeable, record that is immediately available through a digital interface could be a game-changer for many industries that lack this sort of visibility. For companies and other large entities that desire immediate real-time visibility of an entire supply-chain, this too is a solution to an age-old problem of needing to see the stops that were made along the way to its final destination.
Now, to be fair, this is a simple summary of the key elements of what blockchain will enable or improve over existing systems. In our experience however, any technology that enables greater and more fluid data transference among stakeholders, tends to define and create new avenues of business previously unimagined.
One thing that all of this suggests is that the value of this data will increase exponentially as the data is shared more broadly. As blockchain solutions revolutionize how data is tracked and propagated, the need for that data to be verified and confirmed to be true, will grow exponentially as well, especially when data entered into a record is shared with all stakeholders in an unalterable fashion.