Thanks to disruptive technologies like blockchain, AI and IoT, the food supply chain is today more intelligent than ever. And as industry leaders tap new, innovative concepts to solve challenges and improve practices in the agriculture industry, the Salinas Valley agtech ecosystem continues to grow and thrive.
In 2018, we explored four tech trends Salinas agtech startups are getting behind, and this year we heard from Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology (WGCIT) about the three trends transforming agtech, which include IoT, blockchain and big data.
To take a closer look at blockchain and how it is impacting agriculture in the Salinas Valley, we caught up with Raja Ramachandran, CEO of Ripe.io, a startup that is a resident in WGCIT. Ripe.io is using blockchain technology to create a “Food Quality Network,” and develop new analytics, automation and business models that improve the agriculture industry.
Can you tell us more about how Ripe.io got started?
Raja: My co-founder, Phil Harris and I both come from the financial industry and have been evaluating blockchain since around early 2014. We evaluated verticals from healthcare, insurance, legal, entertainment, electronics, and ultimately stumbled into food. One of our first projects was partnering with Analog Devices – who had pioneered the “Internet of Tomatoes” to leverage sensors to grow a better tomato – to understand the full extent of what goes into tomatoes and track them from cultivation to consumption. Since then, we have spent a lot of time on farms, with distributors and manufacturers trying to gain insights into the world of food that’s more than just bar codes.
How is ripe.io using blockchain?
Raja: At a basic level, we capture data that encompasses all processes used in the agriculture industry, from farming, to distribution, to retail and ultimately to consumption. We call this data and process the “food bundle,” and it’s available for the supply chain so that restaurants and retailers, for example, can use the information to help them understand freshness, quality, sustainability and other attributes of food. The idea to is share this information and create one trusted, immutable record for all the supply chain to view and rely.
How are you working with farmers in Salinas?
Raja: With WGCIT, we’ve been able to spend time with farmers in Salinas to educate them on blockchain and get feedback about the technology. It’s a two-way conversation that we’ve had with different farmers in the area, as one of the big challenges is ultimately creating a non-intrusive data capture. How can we create a simple solution that easily flows within how they manage and do things? What technology will be the easiest for farmers to integrate into their current processes? For example, is voice capture easier for them as opposed to pointing a phone or scanning a label, or is a drone with a camera an improved way to gather information instead of scanning information?
Why is blockchain an important technology for the agriculture industry from your perspective?
Raja: Simply put, it’s about preventing lost opportunities for farmers. Farmers inherently create vast amounts of information and output (soil, farming practices, animal welfare, storage, transportation, labor) but they don’t always have ownership of that data. Third parties take those analytics and data and farmers aren’t seeing the benefits. For the first time, this distributed ledger technology presents farmers with a network to join, have attribution and rights of data use to the agriculture community.
Aside from blockchain, what’s one other agtech trend that you’re following?
Raja: Right now, finding personalized information that relates to your food is exhausting and difficult. We think there’s a real strong future in matching the attributes of food you are directly consuming with how you think about and ultimately consume food. In the end there’s this conscious notion that you want to get the farmer closer to the consumer and digitally connect those dots.