In the culmination of Genesis’ Feed Technologies’ Seed to Feed project, we explore the innovative ways our partners are bringing traceability to the ag industry
Growing up on a family farm in Kulm, North Dakota, Peter Schott remembers dropping soybeans off at the elevator— but ask him what happened to them after that and, at the time, he couldn’t tell you.
“I never gave much thought to, where do they go? How were they being used? What was the value downstream for these commodities?” he said. “I was just on to the next load, or the next crop, or the next flat tire.”
Now, as co-founder of agtech startup Genesis Feed Technologies, Schott is answering these questions about the supply chain—most recently through GFT’s Seed to Feed campaign hosted at the Grand Farm in Fargo, ND. The Seed to Feed campaign was designed to show people what Schott could not see growing up on the farm— a look at the total life of a soybean, from seed, to harvest, to the elevator, to animal feed, to the buyer.
The vision was to demonstrate three things:
- What is the supply chain?
- .What are some of the current issues with the supply chain?
- Who are the innovators and the leader that are working to solve problems with the supply chain?
To do this, Schott and the Seed to Feed partners grew 5 acres of soybeans, published educational content about the supply chain, spoke at and hosted events such as the Blockchain + Ag event (which brought in over 250 people from around the world), and wrapped up with an event, Traceability in Ag, which brought in attendees from 37 different countries and highlighted the technology partners in the ag industry.
The work of the Seed to Feed partners varies in how they are each addressing traceability and the supply chain in agriculture. Some of the core areas of innovation are centered around data tracking and management, data interoperability, and identity preservation. The shared goal is to bring value back to the farmers and growers, and create a system that supports that as well.
A Hand-Held Dry Matter Analyzer
The SCiO cup is a handheld Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (NIR) product by Consumer Physics, which they describe as “the world’s fastest lab-grade dry matter analyzer.” The SCiO cup is much smaller than the typical NIR machines you’d find in an agricultural lab—it’s about the size of a really big coffee cup. It’s also significantly faster; whereas a lab may take a few days to gather results, the SCiO cup uses NIR technology to do an infrared scan, instantly compares the analysis with lab results, and delivers information within minutes.
In a live demonstration at the event, Schott scanned soybeans with the SCiO cup and within seconds, it pulled up a nutrient profile for the beans: 31% protein, 11.7% moisture, 22.5% oil.
“Theoretically, when a farmer is dumping things out into a bin, they could know this information,” Schott said. “And if it’s a higher value commodity, maybe they’d choose to bin store it somewhere else and sell it as a specialty, and charge a premium for it.”
Watch the SCiO cup demonstration: https://vimeo.com/635485373#t=813s
Building A Digital Infrastructure with Bushel
According to McKinsey Global Institution’s Digitization Index, ag is the least digitized major industry. Fargo-based software provider, Bushel, saw an opportunity to change that. They are create a digital infrastructure that complements the existing physical supply chain, and helps move the ag industry into the digital era.
“Where farmers could track everything down to the centimeter at their field, they were then handed a paper scale ticket at the elevator. It takes longer to move the data than to move the grain,” Colette Bersie, Bushel Product Manager, said. Bersie said. “This is why initiatives like the Seed to Feed campaign are so important for us to participate in—we’re finally attaching digitization and digital data to the physical supply chain where it hasn’t been before.”
By integrating with grain elevator accounting and information systems, Bushel allows farmers to keep track of the many moving parts in their operations in one digital platform. Farmers can see when a grain truck has made a delivery, the quality of the grain that was delivered, and have a record of when and where the delivery was made. This type of traceability is crucial for three main things Bersie outlined: supply chain management, safety and quality assurance and marketing food attributes. This in turn drives lower cost distribution systems, reduced recall expenses and high-margin product sales.
“Not all commodities are created equal,” Bersie said, acknowledging their shared vision with Genesis Feed Technologies. “We believe that a higher margin opportunity is there for both farmers and the grain elevators when traceability is attached to those commodities.”
A Farmer-Centric Data Commons
An important part of these agtech initiatives is farmer buyin and trust—something that is top-of-mind for Connie Bowen, AgLaunch Director of Innovation and Investment (her favorite word is “farmer-centric.”) Part of AgLaunch’s work involves proof of concept field trials for cutting edge agtech—all with the purpose of verifying if this agtech tool is actually helpful to farmers.
“We get out in the field and say, ok, here’s a productive farm. Does this ‘agtech gadget thing’ work? Do farmers like it? Can they work with it? We stress test,” Bowen said. “And we do it in a way so farmers are investors of their time, resources, assets, and capital. We choose the startups with the farmers.”
This is a crucial part of seeing progress for the ag industry supply chain, Bowen said, especially considering that current data shows a low adoption rate for agtech. According to the 2021 Farmer Perspectives on Data Trust in Food, a Farm Journal Initiative & the Sustainability Consortium, 62 percent of farmers do not rely on Financial Management Information Systems (FMIS), defined by the report as “any commercially available farm management software suite designed to help farmers collect, store and use their production data.” Twenty-eight percent store and manage their data primarily on paper records.
“Basically, farmers don’t trust agtech,” Bowen said. “This is natural push-pull… but it’s a challenge when you’re working in agtech and trying to get more adoption.”
High on the list of concerns is the question: who owns my data? In the report, 73% of respondents said they don’t trust private companies with their data, and 58% don’t trust the government with it.
AgLaunch’s solution was to build a farmer-owned, farmer-controlled data commons (or an ontological data lake, for the nerds, Bowen said.)
“Each farmers has control over their ‘bucket’ of data. The farmer group that governs it has control over certain components within each farmer’s data bucket, which are agreed upon as part of the commons,” Bowen said. “These farmer cooperations are the key to actually enabling some of these multi-chain traceability initiatives.”
Educating The Region And The World
Another important piece for moving the ag industry forward is education. Northern Crops Institue has made this their mission for 40 years, most recently hosting a Grain Procurement course for 80 participants from 20 countries. Other courses focus on ethanol production, soy foods, barley usage, pasta processing, and more.
“It’s about connecting with the international marketplace. How do you understand the supply chain, and how do you connect with those sellers?” Mark Jirik, NCI Director, said. “We bring in ag leaders who come to Fargo to learn about the food we grow in this region. For us it’s about continuing to tell that story.”
Adding Smarts To Sampling With
Ken Jackson, CEO of VeriGrain, grew up on a large seed farm where, for sampling, they used a broken hockey stick with a can on the end. Everything was documented on a paper notepad, usually kept in someone’s pocket.
Today, while some things have changed— hockey-stick-buckets have been replaced with plastic sampling scoops—much is still the same. Verigrain has a vision to change that.
“What we’re doing is taking what is now a very analog, manual process, that uses a scoop on a stick and a little booklet in your top pocket, and we’re taking it to a new level with a digital app based recordkeeping system,” Jackson said. The problem Verigrain is solving, he explained, is that grain quality and quantity determination is inaccurate and inefficient. This leads to growers getting sub-optimal grain value and lower revenue, and buyers and processors deal with inefficiencies and additional costs.
Verigrain provides everything needed to create a digital traceable record of your grain; a Smart Scoop, bar-coded storage containers, tamper-evident bags, and analysis management. Their Smart Scoop is not unlike the bucket Jackson grew up using, they just “added some smarts to it,” he said. Growers use the Smart Scoop and Verigrain’s bar-coded storage bags, synced with the Verigrain platform, to share a traceable, digital record of their grain with multiple buyers anywhere in the world.
Seed To Feed To The Future
Looking forward to the future, Schott hopes to continue to host events and campaigns like the Seed to Feed campaign that bring together agtech innovators and explore how the ag industry can work together. After all, the best way to move the ag industry forward is together—technologists, growers, buyers, engineers, data analysts, producers—working together with a shared goal.
“My goal today is that you find one of these partners interesting and want to learn more about it,” Schott said at the Traceability in Ag event. “Maybe you have an idea of how to help them, or can see how their technology can work with you. Reach out to them and make that connection.”
You can learn more about our partners at seedtofeed.info/
Watch the entirety of the Traceability in Ag event here:
Seed To Feed – Traceability in Ag Event from Peter Schott on Vimeo.
Verigrain claims that by showing your traceable record, you can increase prices by 20 percent.
“Being able to provide samples and independent lab analysis gives buyers more confidence in purchasing your grain at higher prices,” Jackson said. “When you consider that different grades and specific characteristics can change final prices by up to 20 percent or more, knowing exactly what’s in bins is crucial for maximum profit.”