Traceability and blockchain
With the movement of product, especially perishables, comes the need for “supply chain visibility and transparency, right through the entire supply chain,” says Treacy.
One trend of particular interest is the use of blockchain technology to enable traceability with Walmart, Costco, Wegmans, and Kroger, alongside companies such as Driscoll’s, Dole, and IBM, currently conducting pilot programs.
The technology enables a block of data to track an item as it moves through the supply chain, allowing real-time access to inputs, growing/packing information, trucking time stamps, refrigeration data, and so on. Treacy cites an example from Walmart, when a shipment of mangos from Mexico spent four days at the border. “Blockchain gave [Walmart] powerful insights about what was happening, and more importantly, what wasn’t happening along the supply chain,” he says.
Tracebacks in the pilot program are taking 2.2 seconds, as opposed to more than six days using traditional methods. And because blockchain data is housed on many different computers, it is believed to be incorruptible, eliminating the need for third parties to authenticate the data.
All told, early results show blockchain improves safety, speed, transparency, quality, and efficiency. Although Treacy says users are still “sort of feeling their way in the dark right now, the results are so powerful we should all pay attention.”
He predicts adoption of blockchain will be sooner, not later. “The industry will be using blockchain in the near- to mid-term.”
It’s no surprise immigration and labor remain a thorny issue. “Labor is shorter, the border is tighter, and there are fewer workers available,” asserts Goforth, noting that some cherry orchards were not picked at all in 2017 because growers couldn’t find a crew. “It will be tougher and tougher until there is a solid worker program where they can come here, work, be paid, and go home,” he says.
“We’re seeing changes in migration patterns,” agrees Matt McInerney, senior executive vice president at Western Growers Association in Irvine, CA. “The economy in Mexico is growing, we’ve heard anecdotally that it’s more dangerous to cross the border, and we have an aging population. It’s sort of a perfect storm.”
The goal of Western Growers and other industry groups is to create a bridge under the H-2A temporary agricultural visa program that will lead to a stable agricultural workforce. “Our food is harvested by foreign workers,” McInerney points out. “The question is do we want that to happen here or in another country?”