Why Traceability Is So Important For Aussie Farmers
The Importance of Traceability in Farming
The pandemic has shed light on a central issue for the Australian agriculture industry: traceability. Stifled imports and exports over the past year have increased Aussies’ demand for greater visibility over where their food originates and how it’s grown. Not only that, Australian farmers want assurance that their product is handled well and remains in top quality on its journey to local retailers or overseas markets.
The key motivation is maintaining Australia’s stellar global reputation for grade A produce. In recent years, food fraud has threatened this standing, especially in popular export markets. Fraudsters have taken to mislabeling non-Aussie produce as Australian to pocket the profits, leading the Aussie farm industry to not only miss out on valuable sales but also leave stakeholders picking up the pieces of a less-than-perfect reputation. According to Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), the problem has become so prominent that it’s costing the industry a staggering $2 billion each year.
Improving traceability across the board could fix both of these problems. Specially designed traceability systems can help farmers and other stakeholders trace their products along the supply chain with the ability to eliminate potential bottlenecks and improve systems along the way – essentially in real-time.
Consumers, on the other hand, will be able to take advantage of the technology by tracking their produce all the way back to the original source, enabling more conscious consumption and building confidence and trust when purchasing.
The Traceability Project
Though it might be starting to rise on the radar, the importance of traceability has been on the agenda for the past few years. In 2017, the Australian government placed traceability in agriculture firmly on the agenda by launching the National Traceability Project. Phase one and two was focused on assessing the then state of play for traceability in the agricultural sector, offered a new framework and put an action plan in place to enhance traceability systems for Australian farmers.
Fast forward to today and the initiative is in the process of pushing projects that will help improve traceability and digitise the flow of and access of information for everyone. It’s hoped this will give a much-needed boost to the agriculture industry by offering assurances of food safety, provenance, authenticity as well as animal welfare and sustainability to those who want them.
Over two rounds between 2019 and 2021 the project shared a total of $7 million between 30 successful grant applicants, who are now working hard to meet their 2023 deadline.
Using Blockchain to Boost Traceability
Blockchain technology has been a central element in the agricultural traceability game. That’s because it allows stakeholders to store and share crucial information safely and instantly. While there are both private and public Blockchain channels, each with its own merits, it might be the hybrid version that holds the most promise for the industry.
Because it can be used to share customised information for both consumers and supply chain stakeholders, it also allows for easy and real-time provenance tracking, validating produce claims (e.g. whether a product is organic, grass-fed or cage-free), and tracking travel conditions of temperature-sensitive items. This could help farmers, wholesalers and suppliers with:
Quality grading as information about the product’s source is easier to trace.
Market pricing as there is greater visibility around the transactions that occur, meaning fair prices can be determined.
Food waste reduction due to transparency about a product’s journey through the supply chain and its level of quality and freshness.
Reducing response times to bottlenecks, changes or recalls thanks to the greater efficiencies in supply chain distribution that blockchain offers
Traceability at Your Fingertips
Aglive, a new Australian traceability system working alongside MLA, has been an earlier adopter of such Blockchain technology. The platform enables beef traceability from farm to table, leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). This allows farmers to track their produce all around the world.
QR codes are the heart of the operation. Each product or batch is tagged with a unique QR code that allows the export to be tracked every step of the way. A trial run between Australia and China in 2020 proved promising, and Aglive is planning to expand to South America, Canada, Uruguay and Europe.
An app developed by the Australian Livestock Export Corporation aims to solve a different traceability roadblock in the same space. LIVEXCollect is set to simplify the increased amounts of data required by regulators for the export of Australian livestock. By fully digitising and centralising livestock and welfare data in one smart device application, it has the potential to make current computer-based systems redundant.
Then there are platforms such as Escavox, which helps farmers maintain the maximum shelf life of their produce through live supply chain tracking. For organic beef farmer, Simone Tully (pictured above), it was a game-changer, especially during COVID-19. “If you have a one or two degree rise in the temperature of the product you’re losing three days’ shelf life for every day it stays out of temperature,” she says. “In perfect cold storage temperature, you could have up to 170 days’ shelf life of some chilled organic beef but, if you have temperature abuse, you get back down to 120 days and so on. With Escavox, we’re able to actually see where our product is and if there’s been any temperature abuse within 15 minutes of it occurring.” This is fantastic for Simone and her business, but the benefits of traceability could be far further reaching. “It highlights the wastage, shrinkage and loss going on because there isn’t visibility on the shelf life of a product, so distributors err on the side of caution with labelling, which leads to food waste. Without traceability, there are a lot of opportunities and money getting left on the table that we can share within the supply chain, as well as stopping food waste.”
There are also developments in the works in other parts of the farming sector. For example, FreshChain Systems is developing Blockchain-based technology to help vegetable growers and other stakeholders accelerate the adoption of modern traceability solutions in a rapidly changing market. There are more and more options becoming available to put the right technology in the hands of Aussie farmers to make traceability easier and more accessible.