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Technology Download: A Look at Blockchain Technology and the Produce Industry
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Technology Download: A Look at Blockchain Technology and the Produce Industry

The technology we have today has helped shape, evolve, and expand the produce industry. Advancements in farming technology help crops grow under the best possible conditions. Temperature controlled shipping with refrigerated trucks, cooling and monitoring systems, and packaging improvements help even the most delicate, sensitive fruits and vegetables endure cross-country and cross-ocean shipping while maintaining their quality and freshness. Food is safer. Less is wasted due to spoilage before it lands on store shelves. And consumers in remote locations can enjoy fresh produce throughout the year—even in the dead of winter.

Today, all eyes are on a breakthrough, emerging technology system that’s anticipated to be as impactful and big as the internet: blockchain. So what do you need to know about blockchain and the ways it could potentially change the way we do business?

What is blockchain technology?

Blockchain is a technology system that stores bundles of information (“blocks”) submitted across a network of computers in chronological order (the “chain”). The information is decentralized and distributed, meaning that no single person, company, or entity owns the system. Because of this, blockchain technology is less susceptible to failure and offers a quicker, more secure way to digitize transactions. Every record is timestamped and stored in a blockchain ledger, with events viewable and verified by anyone in the system.

Blockchain technology has origins supporting bitcoin, a digital currency that precludes middlemen financial institutions or banks. Bitcoin uses blockchain to track ownership records of digital cash as transactions are made, so that the money has only one owner at a time.

How could blockchain impact the produce industry?

One of the burning questions asked in the fresh supply chain is, “How do we create more internal and external transparency in the supply chain?” Blockchain could help in three main ways.

1. Total visibility. With blockchain, every event that occurs in the supply chain can be a recorded transaction, chronologically logged and visible to every participant. Each timestamped transaction—from activity in the field to delivery at the store—is linked to a previous block and can be viewed or added to, but the data that’s already recorded cannot be changed.

2. Security. Blockchain uses cryptography that ensures records and transactions can’t be changed or counterfeited, so no party can cheat the system—there’s one source of truth. And, because blockchain is decentralized and distributed, with millions of personal computers holding the record blocks submitted by other users, it’s difficult for a hacker to take down or corrupt the system.

3. Traceability. Blockchain’s unshakable record of every transaction makes it a natural support system for food safety and traceability. This visibility to a commodity’s movement through all stages of processing and distribution can play an important role in preventing contaminated food from reaching consumers.

What might a fresh produce supply chain look like with blockchain?

Blockchain creates universally transparent transactions, but what does that mean for fresh produce and the cold chain? With blockchain technology, all parties involved can see all events in the supply chain, from field to consumer. Consider, for example, the clarity, planning power, and product knowledge you’d have if you could see everything that has to do with the produce you need in your store. With blockchain, you could see which seed varieties were used, planting times and conditions, yield forecasts, harvest information, packing updates, and shipment details.

Final thoughts

While full adoption of this technology is still years out, there’s no doubt that blockchain technology will open up new opportunities and change the status quo. We’ll keep you updated as blockchain and other emerging technologies transform our industry.

To discuss technology and visibility opportunities for your fresh supply chain, connect with one of our experts.

Charlie Loes

Charlie Loes - Director of Technology, Robinson Fresh

Charlie joined the Robinson Fresh team in 2011, where he leads the divisions technology investment strategy. Prior to Robinson Fresh, Charlie held various leadership positions in technology, operations, and project management for The Geek Squad at Best Buy Co., Inc. Charlie holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Minnesota and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.
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