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How farmers could see the benefits of blockchain

  • 2.5 min read

Retail and consumer demands for better traceability and greater transparency are driving blockchain implementation in agriculture, and farmers could be beneficiaries of its adoption.

Blockchain has been made famous by Bitcoin, but while the latter relies on blockchain to record transactions, blockchain doesn’t require crypto-currencies, like Bitcoin, to be applied elsewhere.

Simply put, blockchain is a shared digital ledger for recording transaction histories that can’t be altered after they're recorded.

And there’s a movement underway to implement it in agriculture.

Global players’ pursuit

In January of 2018, Louis Dreyfus made history with the world’s first agricultural trade using blockchain in a United States soybean cargo sale to China.

And in summer of 2017, major shot-callers in the food sector – including Kroger, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Unilever and Walmart – announced they will work with IBM to identify areas that can benefit from blockchain.

“Whether it’s related to food safety or food fraud, you can trace and track products much more quickly with blockchain technology because everything is very transparent, everything’s accessible in real time,” explains Sylvain Charlebois, dean of the Faculty of Management and professor in the Faculty of Agriculture at Dalhousie University.

Walmart already tested blockchain in tracing food items, like pork in China and mangoes in the U.S., through the supply chain to store shelves. It reduced the time to trace mangoes back to the farm from as much as weeks to two seconds.

“I suspect what’s going to happen is this is going to become the standard for providing quality health safety assurances around food products,” says University of Guelph professor and vice-president of research, Malcolm Campbell.

Value in joining

Anyone along the supply chain that resists coming aboard risks being left behind.

“I think we are going to see pressure from retailers, and some countries might require it: ‘We aren’t going to import anything unless you’ve got a blockchain-validated supply chain,’” says Campbell.

Consumers will only benefit because it makes everyone honest, and more and more, they’re the ones driving change, says Charlebois.

“So at some point, whether it’s blockchain or something else, the supply chain will have to become more transparent because consumers are expecting something different,” he says.

Good for farmers

“It certainly would help farmers because it could support the integrity behind the product or the commodity,” Charlebois says. “You can provide sound guarantees at retail from farm to fork.”

“We’re already a trusted, safe, sustainable healthy food brand globally,” Campbell adds. “Blockchain implementation provides us with a way that we can validate or certify that our food adheres to the standards people have come to expect from Canadian food products.”

Machines provide data

With blockchain adoption will come greater degrees of automated data collection, Campbell predicts. He foresees real-time data from combines, drones and robotic-milkers uploading to the ledger.

“It removes the element of human error from populating the ledger.”

Bottom line

Farmers and consumers could be big winners with blockchain adoption throughout the agriculture sector, providing certification that food adheres to the high standards expected by consumers.