Blockchain in the 2020 Food Supply Chain

Year of Boom or Year to Bust?

It seems like just yesterday that blockchain was all anyone was talking about. Cryptocurrency was the new money. Internet of things was going to change our day-to-day lives. And to those of us in the food supply chain, a revolution in record-keeping seemed just around the corner.

WHAT HAPPENED?

The buzz around blockchain has dipped some in the last couple years, but many food companies are still forging ahead with cutting edge programs to integrate their supply chains into a blockchain. Why the delay? Was tech not ready? Were not all the players on board? Or was blockchain just a passing fad?

None of the above. The real story is that blockchain is only part of the equation.

WHAT CAN BLOCKCHAIN DO

Back to basics: blockchain is a digitized, verifiable, incorruptible, decentralized ledger that captures and records transactions between two or more parties. Because this record can’t be changed or hacked, it can be an ideal base for a system of transactions that requires responsibility and verification. Furthermore, because it’s decentralized, it’s perfect for a multi-entity pipeline like the supply chain.

In theory, this should create the ultimate vantage point to view the supply, and as a result, make it the best version of itself.

•Goods can be located in realtime at any given moment. Sources are verified and held to high standards.

•Every product will have a comprehensive origin record.

•The administrative mess supply chain managers tear through every day will sort itself into a cohesively organized database.

However, this dream of the perfect blockchain-powered supply chain falls short when the blockchain exists in a vacuum.

WHAT CAN’T BLOCKCHAIN DO

Think of the blockchain as a cutting edge superhighway, running between every stage of the supply chain. It’s the digital infrastructure that can connect the information needed by buyers, sellers, and supply chain managers into a streamlined system. That highway is all well and good, but without cars, that highway is going to stay pretty useless.

These “cars” are the other half of the equation. Like a highway needs cars, and supply chain blockchain needs data sets. Copious amounts of information need to be inputted at every step in the supply chain for the blockchain to function to its true potential.

Currently, most of the imported data on in-use blockchain projects comes from barcode and RFID scanning stations. This is a great first step – these tags can give detailed data on shipping times, locations, and even sometimes en-route conditions.

But it’s only a first step.

•Since the barcode is typically placed on a box at a processing center (long after a food product leaves the farm), large swaths of data on the true origin of a product are left ungathered.

•Legacy barcode tracking APIs already do a good job of gathering barcode-only data, so companies have limited incentive to switch to blockchain

•Traditional barcodes are the go-to in many shipments, and only only gather data on time, date, and location

POPULATING THE BLOCKCHAIN IN 2020

Filling the blockchain infrastructure with comprehensive data is the part of the equation yet to be realized. This data integration presents the biggest challenge and biggest opportunity for blockchain in the food supply chain.

The good news is that that data is out there. Upstream supply chain segments (farms, processing plants, washing facilities, etc.) often harbor a wealth of data in various digital silos cut off from the rest of the supply chain. With the right experts on the case, capturing and integrating this data is just a matter of footwork. At FarmTrace, one of our key missions is to collect this hidden data and prepare it for integration with data from the rest of the supply chain.

Blockchain is poised to be an integral part of the food supply chain. With the data to populate it, the infrastructure is set to be a game changer. As soon as the cars are in place, be ready for a true superhighway!

 

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