Humans have always been obsessed with data collection and measurement. Now, thanks to advances in satellites, sensors, drones, and mapping, we collect so much agricultural data that we are struggling to organize, store, and interpret it. This represents a huge amount of wasted potential, particularly in the agriculture sector.
Veteran commodities trader Sara Menker recognized this shortfall and the associated opportunity. Now her Big Data firm Gro-Intelligence is poised to radically transform the food supply chain by providing actionable insights to drive better decision-making on crop planning, pest control, price projections, logistics, and even hedging and speculating via futures or retail-market derivatives.
Climate Change and Competition Threaten France’s Position as a Leading Wheat Exporter
In 2018, Gro Intelligence used big data analytics in an attempt to understand the potential impact of climate change on the French agricultural sector, specifically wheat production. The study took a combination of yield data from French competitors, such as Russia, with weather impact predictions, and French export data.
The study argued that the country’s well-organized agricultural sector should be capable of weathering the impacts of global warming in the medium term. However, the rising prominence of Black Sea wheat producers could threaten the country’s long-term dominance, despite the nation’s powerful geographic location.
The implications of this study are complicated, but in essence, Gro argued that France could continue to remain a strong player if they took steps now. These included ensuring that the country retained its reputation for quality produce as well as taking steps to further optimize its already efficient agricultural sector.
Better Collection Is Key
The foundation of the big data revolution is data collection. This ranges from satellite footage to temperature sensors to QR-codes, all collecting millions of different data-points. The key is ensuring that the correct sensors are put in place to collect data that is actually useful to farmers and traders.
One of the more obvious examples of this is the use of agricultural drones. These are crewless aerial vehicles (UAVs) specifically designed to collect agricultural data. They have been used heavily in the EU and Africa in an attempt to improve crop yields. One interesting example is the Ivory Coast startup WeFly, which uses drones to collect data and offers software that enables farmers to track their fields in real-time.
Other examples include using QR-codes to track which operator has handled food and temperature sensors designed to ensure that agricultural produce is never exposed to unsafe temperatures.
As data-sharing practices, as supported by the EU, become more common, there will be far more data. This leads to the next challenge, how can it be stored and verified?
Blockchain Provides Trustless Structured Data
The key to making this data usable is to structure it properly and ensure that it cannot be tampered with. This is where blockchain comes in.
The core utility of blockchain is that you can store data in specific blocks that becomes a permanent record that cannot be altered after the fact. This allows the collection of vast amounts of data and encourages good data-collection practices to ensure that it can be correctly loaded onto the blockchain.
One of the most successful examples of an agricultural blockchain project doing just this is TE-FOOD. The company handles all aspects of food supply logistics. Most usefully, they can leverage their blockchain project, the FoodChain, to revolutionize data storage. This enables companies to register their supply chain event data on a platform that can’t be edited and can be independently verified by consumers.
Projects like TE-FOOD are particularly important to the French agricultural sector. European, particularly French, exports rely heavily on Designed Product of Origin (DPO) labels. This is designed to be a seal of quality, but its importance isn’t always understood, or readily verifiable, outside of the EU.
Blockchain technology could empower French producers to provide verifiable proof that their products do meet standards, and are legitimate. This could help counter food fraud, and increase awareness of the significance of DPO. In the long term, this could provide a key tool for the French economy to retain its reputation for quality.
Efficiency Will Be Key to the Future of French Agriculture
Developed nations like France can’t compete with emerging economies on cost-terms in a brutal global commodities market. Instead, they need to leverage their reputation and inbuilt advantages to their full potential. For France to do this effectively, it will need to embrace the agricultural tech revolution.
If France nurtured the right data-collection infrastructure for its agricultural sector, it would empower farmers to make better use of their land, and more money. This could mitigate the effects of climate change, while also helping maintain France’s geographical and organizational advantage in the medium term.
This infrastructure, if combined with blockchain technology, would prove a powerful tool for French agriculture. The nation’s reliance on, and interest in, quality certificates like DPO mean that blockchain tech could be of particular value. It would provide consumers, particularly outside of the EU, a window to understand exactly how DPO works, and help producers confirm their claims.
France will need to make changes to meet the challenges of the future, and data and blockchain will likely be the cornerstone of those efforts over the next couple of decades.