One of the first things I talk to specialty crop producers about is how they keep their records. And not just their financial records but records of their on-farm practices, who they purchase their inputs from, how much water they use for irrigation, how they managed farm reside and waste, and more.
The reason for this conversation starter is this: the value chain is changing. The choices people make at the grocery store are changing rapidly, making big waves for food and agriculture industries. In a 2018 online survey of more than 2,000 U.S. shoppers, 75% said they’d be more likely to switch to brands that provide more product information, according to the report from Food Marketing Institute and Label Insight.
I spoke with Aidan Connolly, Chief Executive Officer of Cainthus and president of AgriTech Capital. He surveyed 50 top food purchasers to identify what they are looking for.
“They want to know if GMOs were being used,” Connolly says. “They want to know how many gallons of water were used to produce 1 lb. of beef. They were very interested in sustainability measures.” Connolly adds, “What you’ll really find is that food companies are expecting producers to truly dig into what they are using and where it is coming from, how safe it is, how it was produced, and how it fit with the ethics and aspirations of the consumer.”
The call for increased transparency into the production of agricultural goods is getting louder. Improving record keeping and data collection practices now prepares an operation for a future where buyers will require more information on production practices and input use. This means we now need to think of data collected as a tool that producers can use to fine tune the overall efficiency of their operation while also preparing them to meet future needs of the value chain.
The value of keeping more detailed farm records is to have everything in one easy to find place, and using those same records to evaluate a farm operation and make decisions based on those insights. Farmers do not need to be a data analysis expert to get value from the data they input. Every input is something farmers are deeply familiar with already.
Additionally, the longer farm level data is collected, the more valuable it is to a farm operation. It is not only about being prepared to meet the needs of buyers who require production practice information, but also can help better agronomic decision-making based on the history of the farm as well as increased modeling and prediction capabilities based on historical weather trends and crop performance.
There’s no way around it- keeping detailed farm records is essential to running a sustainable produce operation.