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The Ag Industry Supply Chain

If you read about Genesis Feed Technologies project “Seed to Feed” in a past issue of Future Farmer, you know that a large part of this project is to explore possibilities for transforming the supply chain.

But what we haven’t talked about yet is… why?

We spoke with Seed to Feed partners AgriDigital and AgLaunch about why they are focusing on transforming the supply chain. One of the main challenges, they agreed, is a lack of clear communication between all the players along the supply chain

“The challenge is that on farms, integrated systems aren’t talking to each other,” Connie Bowen, AgLaunch Director of Innovation and Investment, said. “We don’t have a common language.”

Flaws in the supply chain were made abundantly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. Logistical constraints and lack of communication resulted in farmers dumping unsellable milk—up to 3.7 million gallons a day according to Dairy Farmers of America— plowing vegetables, and burying perishable produce. At the same time, food shops ran out of stock and were forced to raise prices for expensive perishables such as eggs.

Part of this could be solved by a more uniform communication system, Bowen said. Right now, for instance, some farm equipment companies don’t automatically integrate with climate. If the players and platforms along the supply chain could be more integrated, data could be more easily shared. This is referred to as data interoperability—the ability of systems and services that create, exchange and consume data to have clear, shared expectations for the contents, context and meaning of that data. And this is what many agree is missing from ag industry supply chains.

“Data interoperability remains a massive challenge in agtech,” Bowen said. “And while this problem is technically solvable, conflicting incentives throughout the supply chain make it difficult for a private technology company to integrate systems across many farms.”

AgriDigital Head of Region for North America Katrina Stanislaw shared her agreement.

“At present, if you look at the supply chain’s big picture, they are opaque and complex,” Stanislaw said.

The result is that value is lost for the farmer, Stanislaw said. In fact, a recent study showed that while many farmers don’t get very much of the food dollar, farmers in special product produce get 26% of food dollars. If farmers are able to track better data on their specific products through identity preservation, consumers may be willing to pay more.

“Everyone on the supply chain wants to see the consumer pay more,” Bowen said. Right now, however, the way data is managed and aggregated in the supply chain keeps identity preservation from happening. This results in some farmers doing more work and producing a better product, yet seeing the same value as other farms producing a lower quality product.

Data interoperability and identity preservation remain two major areas of growth for the supply chain. So, what are we doing about it? Bowen and Stanislaw pose some solutions, some of which are actively being tested in the Seed to Feed campaign.

One-shared communication platform + Blockchain.

One way that agtech leaders are hoping to solve the data interoperability problem is through creating shared platforms where farmers can track…well, everything.

For instance, AgriDigital recently launched their solution to data interoperability with a platform called Waypath. Waypath is a secure digital platform for managing everything from deliveries to invoices. The platform combines physical inventory management and workflows, supply chain data, and commodity backed inventory finance. It utilizes blockchain technology through their partnership with Geora (also a Seed to Feed partner.)

“The average farmer has 40 harvests over the course of their career,” Stanislaw said. “That’s 40 shots to get it right. And right now, it’s typical for farmers to manage these complex operations with pen and paper, and Excel spreadsheets.”

According to AgriDigital and Stanislaw—there is a better way.

“Waypath is the tool to manage that harvest. It’s a way farmers can be sure they know exactly what’s going on with each harvest, where their grain goes, and the grain inventory they have on hand all year long,” Stanislaw said.

It’s part of AgriDigital’s mission as a whole to transform the supply chain and put more value (and cash) back into the hands of farmers.

“What we’re trying to do is provide tools for farmers to take advantage of new opportunities and be competitive in them,” Stanislaw said. “We’re automating and connecting inventories—tracking and tracing what is grown to the end seller. This is essential to get more margin back to the farmer, and build sustainable supply chains.”

Let farmers keep their data.

Part of returning value to farmers is by putting data back in their hands and integrating identity preservation as part of the supply chain.

“The only way to ensure that the various tools and technologies in agtech can work together is to put the farmer at the center of the system,” Bowen said. “In ensuring that farmers have control over their data, we are creating an opportunity to actually unlock real value through cooperative efforts that handle farm data to the benefit of farmers in the same way that today’s coops process and market commodities”

It’s worth noting that even with farmer centered data management, a few challenges still remain in order to have complete traceability and identity preservation. One of them is the logistics of actually keeping one farmer’s product separated from another’s.

“I can think about how we’re tracking everything and storing the data, but I struggle to think about how we are literally segregating grain,” Bowen said. “If we can do that, I think there’s an interesting opportunity to take the next step. Technically, physically, logistically we can do it. Economically, it has to make sense for all the players.”

In the Seed to Feed project, we are using Waypath to track and trace the growth, soil quality, and nutrient profile of the soybeans. The goal is to have complete identity preservation documentation for the harvest that can then be used to increase the value of the product.

Quality over quantity.

The larger movement in ag—and a foundational part of the Seed to Feed campaign—is valuing quality over quantity. It’s no longer about how high your yield or how big your harvest; it must be about the quality of your products.

For the past 30 years, ag has been focused on how to maximize volume—and we’ve hit very high yields,” Stanislaw said. “Now, we’re looking at how to maximize the function or nutrition of a crop while keeping those yields. And, in turn, how to verify that and make it profitable for the farmer.”

This, too, is an integral part of Genesis Feed Technologies’ platform, the Nutritional Value Calculator (NVC). With the NVC, ingredient buyers are able to see the nutrient profile of a product—right now, with the focus on soybeans. The ultimate vision is for farmers to use the NVC to list their premium products, using data management and even Blockchain to verify the premium nutrient profile, and allow them to charge a higher value for their product.

“Increased visibility on metrics that matter will help players throughout the chain to increase profitability,” Peter Schott, CEO and co-founder of Genesis Feed Technologies said. “The NVC is starting to play an important part in that process, and we are thrilled about the future for everyone involved.”

A bright future

When it comes to transforming the ag industry supply chain, there is work to be done. However, with partners like those in the Seed to Feed campaign, such as AgriDigital’s innovative work utilizing new technology, and forward-thinking partnerships and investments like those we’re seeing with AgLaunch, the future is bright for the ag industry supply chain. Together, we’re building a future that’s better for farmers, consumers, and the ag industry as a whole.

Follow along with the Seed to Feed project at seedtofeed.info (including live trail cam updates from the field!)

About Seed to Feed

Seed to Feed is a first-of-its-kind supply chain and traceability project by Genesis Feed Technologies and nine global partners. The project, hosted at the Grand Farm near Fargo, North Dakota, tracks the life of a soybean from seeds planted in the soil, all the way to being consumed by an animal. In the process, the project educates viewers about each step of the supply chain; while bringing up questions and possibilities for how the ag industry can make it better and bring more value to farmers.

SEED TO FEED: UPDATE FROM THE FIELD

1 . How does the plot look? How are the soybeans growing?

Everything is looking good as it can be. I’m very happy with our products, and happy with how they have performed despite the drought stress and heat stress.

2 . Can you talk about the varieties on the plot? What are the characteristics, and why did you choose those?

Varieties of the soybeans—90.80.3, 10.70.3 We chose soybeans with a maturity group that performs well for this region. The further north you are, maturity gets lower. Further south, maturity gets higher. These beans are .7 maturity and .8 maturity. That is in the right zone for this geographical plot.

We also wanted to use beans with Enlist technology. Using Enlist, this particular seed is tolerant to 2,4-D, a low volatile chemical that helps us control weeds. This ensures that the product will be weed-free without being harmed by the chemicals.

3 . How do they (these varieties) compare with the rest of the region? What are you seeing when you go to other fields?

The Seed to Feed soybeans are performing very well, especially considering the conditions they were dealt. Some varieties of the same maturity and technology in this area are not performing as well.

For example: A well-performing bean right now has plenty of bean sprouts, and looks healthy and lush.

A bean under heat stress will show signs of wilting, leaf cupping, and won’t have as many pods or blossoms.

4 . Overall, how is this year going for farmers?

It’s very territorial. Down in South Dakota, things are going incredibly well for some. Up here in our area (North Dakota/Northern MN), it’s not where it could be as far as crop potential because of drought and heat stress. We’re not expecting bin-busting yields. We are praying for rain to help keep the yields that we have. But a lot of our product from ProSeed seem to be performing very well, and we are proud of that.

In particular, the two products we contributed to the Genesis Feed Technologies’ Seed to Feed plot are doing well, despite the conditions we’ve been dealt.

5 . What are some of the ways ProSeed works with growers to help be successful in their farming operation?

We pride ourselves on customer service and quality product. For our seed, we do a lot of third party and in-house research on our products to be sure that we provide the best quality product we can. We want our products to be the best. We want the farmers to make money, to have a beautiful, bin-busting year. When they do better we do better.

We also work with them to give them the best customer service that you could ask for. We faithfully believe that business should be done in person and not over the phone. If a grower has questions or issues—we’ll be the first at their door to help them find a solution. Be it agronomic, financing, or any other farming question, ProSeed is right there to help you.

This year, we’re helping farmers scout their fields and know what to expect. We’re working together to keep that light at the end of the tunnel.

6 . What are some things growers should be thinking about, to finish the year as best they can?

Right now we are in the point of the year where we are seeing certain insect pressure. If there is a nice crop out there, it’s important to be timely scouting your crop and taking care of issues immediately. Save what yield you have. And pray. Pray for rain. We’ve been joking with each other every day saying, “Before you go home do your rain dance.” And of course, if you need seed, think ProSeed.

What do you think?

Erin Hightower

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