MADISON, Wis. – The ability to trace food from farm to table is of increasing importance to today’s consumer. Not only that, tracing animal and food movement is critical for the farmer producing the food.
    “Traceability is important for protecting our food system and our farms,” said Phil Harris. “That is why we think about the farmer first in everything we do. Currently, many supply chains are short on data and offer limited information surrounding quality, traceability and sustainability. Blockchain is a tool that can help.”
    Harris is the president and co-founder of ripe.io. His presentation, “Blockchain – redefining traceability” was part of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Dairy Insights Summit Dec. 5, 2019, in Madison.
    Blockchain digitizes the supply chain by creating a digital version of a physical object. Devoted to helping supply chains around food and agriculture become more efficient and improving consumer trust and confidence in food, Harris and his team are active across a broad range of food and agriculture supply chains, including dairy, beef, pork and fresh produce. Dairy Farmers of America is one of their clients.
    Blockchain helps provide transparent and reliable information on the origin, journey and quality of food. Working with a broad spectrum of customer segments – including farmers and producers, seed companies, industry associations, government bodies, food processors, grocery stores and restaurants – blockchain provides track and trace for recalls and food safety, captures elements of quality and insures tracking the integrity of premium payments connected to data sharing and transparency.
    Digital transactions increase efficiency and reduce paperwork. Blockchain is helping industries such as healthcare, automotive, aerospace and agriculture by increasing efficiency, cost savings, risk reduction, data validation, data accuracy and data sharing.
    “Blockchain will revolutionize supply chains globally,” said Harris who compared it to the internet in its ability to transform the world. “A recent report from Gartner estimates that the business value from the deployment of blockchain has the capability to save $3.1 trillion across all industries by increasing efficiency.”   
    Harris said anything can go on blockchain – milk, cheese, steak, avocadoes, oranges, cars, currency and more. When defining blockchain, Harris compared it to how Google Docs handles spreadsheets, allowing everyone with permission to see the same spreadsheet at the same time no matter where they are located. Blockchain works similarly, enabling people to see the same information in real time in a ledger. Multiple users can write and view information simultaneously. Not all information is accessible to everyone, and blockchain layers in additional security to ensure people only see the data meant for their eyes – nothing more, nothing less.
    “I control who I share info with and what info I share,” Harris said. “That gives users the utmost security and confidence that what he or she is sharing is only going to the people they want to share it with. Furthermore, it’s an immutable environment meaning data cannot be manipulated. The sharing of information creates more efficiency within the supply chain and allows each actor in the chain to do a better job than he or she did before.”
    Customers are demanding transparency in their food purchases and looking for brands and products that tell a story. Harris said people are willing to pay more for this information, and if they cannot get the info they want, they will pick another brand. Big brands are going to demand this information, from their suppliers, if they are not already asking for it.
    “Consumers want to know where their food came from,” Harris said. “Who grew it? How did it get here? How did the animals live? Where did they live? What is their medical history? This information will eventually be demanded for every specific food item in the supply chain. Consumers want to buy food that tells a story.”
    That is where blockchain comes in. Each food item has a master data file known as a food library that contains all of the possible capture attributes. The food bundle is the digital representation of the food item as it passes through the supply chain.
    “Our work starts at the farm – outlining farming practices, seed variety, animal genotypes and phenotypes, for example,” Harris said. “Our goal in dairy is not to isolate one cow in a frappuccino from Starbucks – that’s ridiculous. Instead, we group animals by farm. When a tanker comes to pick up the milk, we have time stamps and can follow it all the way through to the processor and retailer. It gives us a better idea of food safety, certification, quality, sustainability, traceability.”
    Data could also include details about herd management, animal safety, water management and soil management.
    “You can go as deep as you want with the data,” Harris said. “It’s going to help the dairy farmer have a better predictive outcome on the quality of milk they sell and the price milk is sold at.”
    Blockchain digitizes the data consumers are craving about the food they purchase. Questions about size, color, texture, firmness, ripeness and more will be answered through blockchain. Consumers will be more informed about what they choose to eat.
    “If a supplier cannot document the items a brand finds valuable, they may no longer buy from you. But if you give them what they want, they might enter into long-term contracts with you or pay a penny more per pound. ” Harris said.  
    Blockchain can help improve the traceability of dairy, beef and other products and achieve consensus amongst growers, distributors, packers, processors, brands and retailers.
    “Blockchain will help the farmer become more efficient and give him an opportunity to tell his story,” Harris said. “I don’t want to turn your world upside down. We try to fit blockchain into how you currently operate. For a farmer with no digitization, it will be more challenging, but we’re flexible in how we capture the data. We can even take the info verbally. And we try not to charge the farmer; the cost is applied upstream.”
    Harris emphasized that blockchain is a team effort, and product improvements should be shared to enhance the whole ecosystem.
    “We need to do this together,” Harris said. “One dairy farmer or one processor can’t solve it on their own. Blockchain is not meant to penalize or pin people against each other in competition. Rather, it’s designed to elevate everyone to do better.”