"Blockchain" technology might link food consumers directly to what you produce

A front-page feature in Wall Street Journal today by writer Jacob Bunge describes how Cargill Inc. plans to use a powerful web-linking technology which would allow retail customers to trace their individual Thanksgiving turkey back to the farm that raised it. A participating Texas turkey producer says this kind of capability "opens our doors to the consumer."

Oct. 25, 2017 — Reconnecting consumers to the sources of their food is a rising call amon millions of more health-concerned Americans. Knowing the origins of where food comes from increases confidence — and loyalty where a buyer finds satisfaction. The internet and software capability now exists so a consumer could soon be enabled to scan an apple's stick-on label with a smartphone and link directly to the website of the farm where that apple was grown. Each farm with a consumer product could become its own "brand" — even though that product flows through a myriad of wholesalers and distributors.

The software making multi-layer tracing possible has the generic term "Blockchain." The concept was built for Bitcoin and other digital currencies. Blockchain software traces a series of transactions from multiple sources. Each registered user on the worldwide web can add to the chain of records, but users are blocked from changing the audit trail. The system takes enormous, cloud-based computing power — which is now becoming available with increasingly speedy networks.

A retail buyer's connection with the farm

Natural Grocers, an organic and natural foods supermarket which arrived here in Cedar Falls, IA a few months ago is also starting to offer certain "direct connection" items. Example: You can order a Thanksgiving turkey and know it comes from Mary's Turkey farm in California's Central Valley. All Mary's turkeys are free-range and you have a choice of non-GMO, organic or "heritage" turkeys.

At our local Hy-Vee food store, produce manager Darren Dieterich makes a major effort to buy locally and feature the farms where items like apples and sweetcorn were raised. We've sold non-GMO sweetcorn there.

Whole Foods found lots of consumer satisfaction in its method of identifying retail meats, carrots, rice and other specific items with in-store signs showing retail buyers the farm which produced them. But this manually managed system was cumbersome to maintain. Now that Amazon has purchased Whole Foods, the former freedom which a store manager had to purchase locally and feature farms is likely to fade away. The Blockchain technology might help restore the personal touch between your farm and your food customer in a digital age.

Obviously farmer-to-consumer linkages aren't very relevant if you're strictly a cash-grain grower. But we've noted that many commodity growers have sideline enterprises offering specialties. Over the past 20 years, Practical Farmers of Iowa has seen the mix of members shift from row-crop farmers to a widening range of specialists who offer high-profit items direct from farms to consumers.