Celebrating Agriculture: Growers, UW College of Ag, and Natural Resources Explore Blockchain’s Potential

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Producers in Wyoming and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) are getting into blockchain technology to explore creating value-added agricultural products that consumers can digitally verify.

Blockchain is a database that stores information together in blocks of data that are chained digitally.

CANR Dean Barbara Rasco said the University of Wyoming’s agricultural college plays an instrumental role in the Center’s program for blockchain and digital innovation on campus.



“I think many of the most exciting applications coming out of the center that will have a big impact within the state are those that the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is working on,” she said. “This is an area we want to focus on and develop programs that will benefit our growers and the agriculture industry in general across the state.”

A block is created when new data enters the blockchain and is then linked to another, said Mariah Ehmke, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.



“If you wanted to create some kind of value-added information, it would help you preserve it and inform the consumer at the end,” she said.

Cattle producers in Wyoming were among the first to adopt this technology through BeefChain owned by American Certified Brands, a Wyoming LLC.

“If you go to a grocery store and buy a steak, for every dollar spent, I think only about $0.20 goes back to the rancher,” said Drew Persson, president of BeefChain and fourth-generation Persson Ranch breeder in northeastern Wyoming. . “It’s because there are so many intermediaries. All of this value is lost to the breeder.

Giving ranchers more of that dollar is the main goal, he said.

Producers who participate in USDA programs such as all-natural, hormone-free cattle (NHTC) and source and age verification could benefit by putting their cattle on the blockchain, Persson said.

Producers using BeefChain use a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag and blockchain to record information, Persson shared.

The first trial conducted through BeefChain was Wyoming-brand beef shipped to high-end restaurants in Taiwan, where consumers were able to scan a QR code on their phone to see the origin of Wyoming beef, said Vice Vice President Jim Magagna. -Executive Chairman of Wyoming Stock. Association of Producers.

“The challenges we face in doing that for a Wyoming product is that we don’t have the processing here at scale to do export or interstate shipping,” he said. “When our cattle have to go to large processors, we lose that ability to have them identified, at least under the current system.”

Magagna said breeders are committed to doing what they can to help provide blockchain as an opportunity to producers who have chosen to participate.

The use of blockchain has some potential for the sheep industry and likely the direction it can take as acceptance and understanding of it increases, said Amy Hendrickson, executive director of Wyoming Wool. Growers Association.

The UW Sheep Program has begun the early stages of implementing blockchain technology by using wool from sheep at the Laramie Research and Extension Center to create limited-edition UW-themed throws that will be accompanied by a unique QR code.

Blockchain technology can be used to help a consumer find out more about the ranch where their woolen blanket comes from. Photo courtesy UW Extension

“When a shopper scans their individual QR code, they’ll take them to a part of sheepchain.org, where they’ll tell a deeper story about the covers,” said Lindsay Stewart, project manager for the project to launch UW.

Broader blockchain applications within the sheep industry are the next step for UW researchers, said Whit Stewart, UW Extension sheep specialist.

“As we continue to do proof-of-concept type work with blockchain and the sheep industry, this is just an opportunity to do so,” Stewart said. “I think lamb will be an opportunity to do the same, but we have to pilot these technologies because if we don’t then it’s all conceptual and it’s theoretical and it’s not proven. So that’s one of the advantages of the university is that we can be R&D (research and development) for industry efforts.

Ehmke considers herself an enthusiastic skeptic of the technology, seeing problems with the lack of regulation and fearing that it is completely fraud-proof.

“It creates a potential world where we have the haves and have-nots of e-marketing and that worries me in terms of economic development for places like Wyoming where we have a lot of aging ranchers and small operations,” Ehmke said. . “How can we make it accessible to everyone? »

Ehmke compares the blockchain to accounting, in which companies track the exchanges and movements of money by writing them down. Double-entry bookkeeping was created to provide two records of information and verify accuracy.

“Blockchain puts this input method, in an abstract way, on the internet, so there’s not just another person checking and auditing it, but every time a transaction is made, there is a group of people who realize this and put a number on this transaction,” Ehmke said. “So in a way, thousands of people have witnessed this on the internet.”

This testimony creates a lock in the transaction and a way to trace it, she said.

“People who are pro-blockchain say it doesn’t necessarily mean fraud won’t happen, but it will be faster and easier to discover,” she said.

Ehmke said if tampered records are detected, their origins can be found more quickly.

“It provides incentives, so if you know your animals are going on the blockchain and it can be discovered and traced back to you more accurately, then hopefully you’ll avoid being misleading,” he said. she declared.

Walmart has adopted blockchain technology to help provide detection and produce a recall faster.

“In terms of preventing crime and unhealthy eating, it’s more about the speed at which you can trace things that has improved with blockchain compared to traditional record keeping,” Ehmke said. .

There are public and private blockchains and in a public blockchain, transactions can be viewed depending on how you want them configured, shared Steven Lupien, director of the UW Blockchain Center of Excellence.

Blockchain has the potential to reduce transaction costs, Ehmke said.

Documenting a transaction, such as the buying and selling of grain, provides evidence without the need to hire a lawyer to create a contract, she explained.

Rasco believes that conducting international trade will be easier because there will be no exchanges of currencies and similar types of costs.

“It will be easier on the blockchain to integrate finances inside of that, and through platforms that include electronic contracts, it will make it easier to speed up trade, make it cleaner and easier to manage negotiations between parties,” she said. noted.

The expense associated with blockchain is one of Rasco’s concerns, and whether that expense is going to be borne by the buyer or imposed on a producer.

“If it became a regulatory requirement, the producer would end up having to absorb the costs,” she said. “If I was working with someone who was doing this purely for traceability, I would encourage them to see what other things could be integrated into the blockchain that would help improve process efficiency, product quality, or yield, so if the cost is on the producer, there is another value they get out of it.

The college plans to begin investigating sensor technology that can be linked to animal health to record and track that information as well, Rasco said.

“That’s the kind of thing we work on at the university. How do you create more value for farmers and improve business operations using a system that instantly transfers value? said Lupien.


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