Fresh produce on the Blockchain

The ability to trace the origin of an apple or pear from tree to table is becoming a reality with the introduction of blockchain. This relatively new digital technology records transactions chronologically and publicly. The transactions are known as blocks and each block contains a secure and real-time record, that cannot be removed or deleted. Blockchain is much more than transactional digital currency, like bitcoin, and provides an array of data, insights and actionable intelligence – providing information that can be acted upon to improve a system.

In the fresh produce space, blockchain has the potential to record any activity along the supply chain, from the date and time a piece of fruit was harvested, to when it arrived at a distribution centre, and secure data from devices that measure the temperature of the fruit on its journey. This technology also allows anyone connected to the chain with an opportunity to track produce at each stage in real time and to review the journey it has taken.

As the digital world continues to develop, blockchain will become a powerful tool in establishing trust across a range of commodities. The opportunity in our industry is to increase confidence in data; provide a more consistent product that can be traced back to an individual orchard; and form trusted, fully transparent business relationships that highlight previous transactions and standards both locally and internationally.

Mangoes kickstart Australian fresh produce blockchain trials
This technology has the opportunity to bring objective data points, transparency and quality optimisation to Australian fresh produce for both the domestic and export market, which is why Andrew Grant, co-founder of Availer – a company the commercialises research developed in Australia to solve global industry pain-points – is keen to implement a blockchain-enabled smart-supply-chain system into the Australian horticulture industry.

“There are various data points throughout the fresh produce supply chain which may be subject to differing opinions; with blockchain and blockchain-enabled devices and software, we can remove the subjective and time delayed information and replace it with secure, transparent, objective and secure information, which means that all participants in the supply chain from producers to logistics companies, ripeners, wholesalers and retailers can make better and objective decisions”, Andrew said.

Andrew resides in the Adelaide Hills and his business partner is based in the United States, they both started out in financial services and moved into the world of commercialisation 20 years ago, including working in Cybersecurity. “Nothing is un-hackable,” Andrew said. “But with blockchain the odds are that it’s almost impossible to hack the information stored in a block as you need access to at least 51 per cent of the nodes. That means you need to be able to simultaneously manipulate more than half of the records in a chain and you don’t necessarily know where they are sitting in cyberspace as the shared data is across a network of computers, not just one.”

Andrew also has an interest in Australian food, wine and agriculture and, as an entrepreneur, is always looking for ways to create something of value that can be commercialised and that provides a sustainable, profitable and quality assured system people are willing to pay for.

“We recognised a gap in the agriculture sector where supply chain information is shared with a lack of efficiency. And as we started to do our research, we noticed specific pain-points in the same areas including: temperature control in vehicles; subjectivity assessment; time delays between point A-point B, rejection at distribution centres and a collective of time-delays in collecting information points, all which costs the producers money as every minutes counts when you are looking to solve a problem and potentially find another market for product.

“Our objective is to introduce quality measures and data points that leave no room to question the integrity of that data, to give producers and all supply chain partners an open, real-time and transparent system to optimise quality management, minimise waste, enable true provenance and food safety protocols.”

Currently one of Andrew’s companies, T-Provenance, is working with Northern Territory Mango producer Manbulloo Limited on a two-year project to pilot the blockchain on mangoes transported from Manbulloo’s sites in Katherine (NT) and Nth Qld, to Adelaide and Melbourne. Instead of tracking every piece of fruit, they will be tracking a number of pallets using an IoT device, coupled with data collected from the various systems from Manbulloo’s supply chain partners. This platform technology can be used in a range of fresh produce businesses.

“Our focus is to be able to plug into any existing IT system that the producers, logistics company, ripening partner or other service partner is utilising that touches the producer’s fruit, and complement this with IoT devices, data feeds from existing monitoring solutions, such as on trucks, all with a view to providing better information back to all supply chain partners, but primarily the producers as they were the bulk of the costs if the end product is rejected”.

The mango trial involves tracking GPS and temperature through the IoT device which is attached to the pallet to record real time data. If the signal cuts out while the pallet is in transit, the data continues to be recorded and will be uploaded onto the blockchain once the signal is back up.

“During this trial we are tracking where the loads are and their quality. In the case of mangoes, they need to maintain a certain temperature to ensure their quality and shelf life. As soon as the produce arrives at the ripening centre we can review the trip and temperature the fruit has been sitting at and can gauge how to treat it – whether it needs to be cooled down immediately as it’s been sitting at a higher than usual temperature or whether it can wait a little longer as the temperature hasn’t peaked and the fruit isn’t at risk of degrading. .

“Everyone in the supply chain has a responsibility to deliver good quality produce to the consumer and this is a way to highlight areas that might need attention during that process. The focus here is to identify the pain point, fix it, lift overall quality and get more demand and grater eating experience of Aussie fruit and vege.”

International opportunity
And indications are it may be only a matter of time until blockchain is implemented in fresh produce around the world. American multinational Walmart recently announced that as of September 2019 all leafy greens will be delivered along the supply chain with recorded data. The French retailer Carrefour, described as a pioneer in the blockchain space, has been using the technology to provide information on demand about their poultry and aims to be using blockchain across their 300 fresh products across the world by 2022.(Reuters article:

Frank Yiannis, ex VP of Food Safety at Walmart, who was once a sceptic on blockchain, has recently been appointed as the Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy for the US FDA and his responsibilities will include implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act. Subsequently there is expectation that the blockchain application in the food supply chain will become much more mainstream in the not too distant future.

Blockchain will assist in improving transparency, trust and speed throughout the fresh produce supply chain with the estimated time taken to trace the origin of a food product 2.2 seconds!

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