De-mystifying blockchain’s role in agriculture

By Tim Kalinowski


While many farmers have expressed concern about securing their data rights, and have pointed fingers as big tech companies for not properly compensating them for data gleaned from farm machinery and other implements, Jefferson Gardner, CEO and co-founder of Inbridge, says he does not understand why those concerns have put blockchain data management in farmers’ sights to be rolled up as all part of the same problem.

“According to some farmers I have spoken with, there are all these bad players out there,” he says. “Facebook is wrecking us. Google is taking our data; everybody is taking our data.

“We, at Inbridge, had an experience with a farmer where we were going to trace his berries, and then he went to a conference in Calgary and got around all his comrades where everybody was fear-mongering about blockchain.

“People were saying it’s going to let everyone see all your data, and they are going to steal it and run away with it, but with blockchain we can make it permissioned so we can only give specific accesses.

“So if you are the farmer, you can give access to your storage facilitator, for example, or you can give access to the processor who is wanting to purchase your potatoes— and you can give them that for a short amount of time and restrict it.”

Blockchain is a new type of database which uses certain types of tech in it that makes it so data cannot be deleted once entered. Any company involved in food supply management today, such as big grocery retailers like your Walmarts, etc., insists on unparalleled traceability, and most are expecting suppliers to do that by adopting blockchain.

So while these data-theft fears are out there, acknowledges Gardner, producers may also realize enormous benefits with using blockchain.

“Blockchain truly is more of a security,” he says. “It creates a lot of different mechanisms. It creates accountability across the entire value chain.

“Trust is an issue in almost every business interaction we do,” he adds. “Blockchain makes trust a moot point, because with the combination of blockchain and the Internet-of-things (sensors) we can be retrieving real-time, factual data that no one can fudge.”

Gardner expects producers will come around to blockchain more and more as a way of guaranteeing quality and verifiability in their operations— thereby increasing their customers’ trust in the product they are producing.

“There is a multi-fold benefit for the farmer,” he says. “One, you are collecting your data and saving your data, and you can actually show verifiable data that no one is manipulating.

“So I want to lease your land to grow onions— do I know the quality of the land? Can I get a history of the yield? Of course, if you are a malicious player, you are going to fudge those numbers and make it sound incredible.

“But, if you can present the data and say this has been verified via blockchain systems, you don’t have to trust me (personally). Because all the systems are integrated in, and the trust is there without actually having to know you.”

Although, he admits, it will likely still be a hard sell in some quarters of the agriculture industry.

“I get farmers all the time that will say, ‘Blah, blockchain. I’ve been on my land for 30 years. I lick my finger, and I know what I am doing that day. Why do I need blockchain?’

“My question always back to them is: ‘What if you got hit by a bus tomorrow?

“What happens to your land, and all the decisions you made? You have all the data in your head; it’s nowhere else.’

“If we are able to capture all the data that you have been learning over 30 years,” Gardner concludes, “we can put it into a blockchain so its immutable.”