Banner The future of food lies in data transparency and sharing

The future of food lies in data transparency and sharing

The year is 2030. At the local grocery store, I pick up a bag of rice and scan it with my smart glasses. Its entire journey from the slopes of the Marmara region of Turkey to my soon to be delicious dinner dish unfolds in front of my eyes: where it grew, who the growers were, how much water, fertilizers and crop protection it consumed and how much energy was spent on delivering it to my local store. Numbers, facts, stats, and the shiny blue tag stating “Sustainably Grown Rice”. I pick it up, check out, and head home to cook dinner.

By 2030 everyone will want to know where their rice comes from. The question is, will we have enough rice?

The food industry is facing two major challenges that will gather momentum as we head towards the future. The first one involves consumers, and their growing demand to know everything about the food on their plate. Where was it grown? How? By whom? How far did it travel?  Consumers demand transparency and traceability from the companies who deliver food to their table.  According to IFIC (International Food Information Council Foundation), food traceability was one of the top five food trends in 2019. Another survey conducted by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) in 2018 revealed that 93% of consumers think brands and manufacturers need to provide detailed information about what is in their food and how it’s made.

And then there's this other issue; food itself and the unpleasant realization that if we simply want to make sure we can all have enough food on our table in 30 years’ time, then something has to change. By 2030 the world’s population is expected to reach 8.5 billion. Today’s agriculture and food system will be incapable of meeting the needs of a growing global population. With the rising pressures on already scarce land and water resources and the intensified negative impact of climate change, it becomes crystal clear that we are left with no choice but to figure out how to grow more with less.

From an agriculture innovation standpoint, which is what I do for a living, the answer to these two mega challenges may culminate in one word; data.  More specifically, the future of food lies in data transparency and data sharing.

My data, your data; from owned to shared data in the food industry

Data exists. It is captured in powerful systems around the world. The amount of data in the world is growing at an exponential rate. It is estimated that “A full 90% of all the data in the world has been generated over the last two years.” Technology is also in place. From artificial intelligence to machine learning and cloud computing. At the dawn of the 21st century, we have mastered the ability to translate data into meaningful insights, recommendations, and guidelines.

Data in the agriculture and food industries also exist but in 2020 it is still mostly fragmented, isolated, and intransparent. Companies collect it, some take the extra step to analyze it and use it to advance their business goals. Some just keep it, currently unsure of how to take advantage of it or monetize it. Yet everybody along the food value chain agrees that the effective use of data-enabled technology presents one of the greatest opportunities for solving the global food issues we are facing today.

Feeding consumers’ growing appetite for more information about their food

According to the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC), consumers crave a deeper understanding of what they are eating. The 2018 Food and Health Survey revealed that over half of the respondents indicated that recognizing the ingredients, and understanding where food is from as key factors that impact purchasing decisions.   

The major food industry players have been well aware of their consumers’ demands. Nestle, for instance, has taken a stand on the issue of traceability, and responsible sourcing, and launched a responsible sourcing platform for 15 priority raw materials.

Industry giant, Danone, recently joined forces with Microsoft to launch the AI factory for AgriFood, an accelerator program that supports startups that leverage artificial intelligence for projects serving regenerative agriculture. Another food conglomerate, PepsiCo now claims that the North American potatoes that it uses are now 100% sustainably-sourced through its Sustainable Farming Program.

Nestle, Danone, PepsiCo, and other food giants were quick to respond to consumers’ demand for transparency and traceability. Yet, consumers want to know the origins of their food and its entire journey from farm to fork while each of these food giants can only provide traceability pertaining to a certain aspect of the food supply chain. Full traceability requires collaboration and data sharing among all the contributors to the food value chain.

At Netafim we’re able to plug into this matrix with data involving the very early stages of crop management and bring huge value to these food companies. Our precision irrigation technology and digital tools enable us to tell how much fertilizer and water were used, what the energy consumption was, calculate the number of carbon emissions that were generated in the process of cultivating each crop and a lot more.  Having access to such data will enable food companies to meet the demands of their consumers for full traceability from field to fork and to uphold their corporate sustainability goals.

Data sharing is the key to food traceability but it's also the key to food availability.

Harvesting (and sharing) data to maximize yield

According to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, food production worldwide will need to increase by another 70 percent over the next few decades. How can data help tackle this challenge?

When it comes to farming, many factors affect the rate of growth and the health of crops. Higher yields come from customized approaches that use hard data to select the best crop genetics, inputs and growing techniques. Lots of such agricultural data is collected nowadays; weather & rainfall patterns, water cycles, nutrient use, pesticide spraying, farm equipment energy consumption, pricing models and more. 

The problem is that access to a centralized agricultural data depository is still a far cry away. From field sensors and drones to irrigation systems and farming vehicles, agriculture companies and ag-tech startups hold the key to valuable data. Sharing this data is necessary in order to make smart agricultural decisions that drive resource and yield optimization and enable farmers to grow enough food to feed current and future generations.

Netafim can leverage its data collection and its ability to integrate with other data sources to support and optimize decision making by others along the food value chain. One of our clients, for example, a winery, has to manage a complex operation over the short, critical and intense harvest season; logistics, trucks, transportation, sorting and more. If the winery has access to data pertaining to the grape’s ripening and sugar levels, it is able to optimize its plans and operations and maximize its profits.

Data sharing business model - a recipe for success

The discussion on the untapped potential of data to transform the food industry is something that’s been on many minds for a while. I believe that data transparency and sharing presents one of the greatest opportunities for the food system since the Green Revolution. Shifting from a futuristic concept to a valid economic structure that will promote the sharing of data as a global resource is something that we will all need to crack together.