Think smarter & embrace the data

OPINION: Think smarter & embrace the data


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Harnessing data and making it part of the supply chain story will be increasingly important into the fresh produce future.

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EDITORIAL

A RETIRED pineapple grower was explaining his frustration during his farming days.

While starting out, he was continually amazed at the quality of fruit produced by his neighbour, an elderly Italian gentleman.

The grower concluded the difference between the pineapple crops was the fertiliser regime.

He pestered the older grower for his fertilising secrets, hoping to be delivered a magic recipe on a scrawled piece of paper.

Finally, the Italian bloke relented (out of frustration at the continual badgering by the sounds of it) and dragged the young pineapple farmer over.

He filled a bucket with some undisclosed but generic-looking fertiliser before taking a handful and spreading it up and down his rows.

And that was it – no special technology, no exact science – just the feel of experience.

What the younger grower really longed for, what was missing, was data.

A set of numbers or specifics that could be replicated for his own crop.

The true story points out a few things, one being that farmers have traditionally not been the best record keepers.

That has changed dramatically in the past 50 years, partly due to regulation and partly due to the realisation of the value of data.

These days, it's a term that's everywhere in agricultural circles.

It seems an inevitable future so rather than resist data collection, a better strategy might be to embrace it as a marketing opportunity.

The importance of data was spelt out recently at the Freshcare Forum and Fresh Produce Safety Centre Conference held in Sydney.

One speaker that particularly brought this out was Pricewaterhouse Coopers national agribusiness leader, Craig Heraghty who drove home the connection between data and trust.

Mr Heraghty said we are headed toward a future where consumers in foreign countries will be increasingly looking at the data behind what they are eating.

He spoke about "data chains" in the sense that there will be long sequences of linked information that contributed to the production of the peach, banana, wine, jam, juice, nut, dried herb or whatever is in the hands of the person about to consume it.

This shifts the perception of what data is, from just records and statistics to a selling and marking tool.

This could mean a piece of fruit, or the package it comes in at least, will contain a link which could reveal the tree it was from, the orchard number, the picker, the packing shed, the chemicals used, the transport operator, the average temperature of the fruit in its journey, the variety, the grower's name and even the brix or dry matter score.

It seems an inevitable future so rather than resist data collection, a better strategy might be to embrace it as a marketing opportunity.

Make the most of being able to show the details of the work that goes into bringing a product to the table.

Data chains shouldn't be thought of as shackles holding a product down, but more as necklaces adorning a brand. 

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