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Technology Case Study: Data analysis

applied tech 4-19

One word lies at the heart of practically every new technological development, both in and out of the produce industry: data.

Data is king, but in an industry that is still largely rooted in tradition, it can be hard to come by. Nathan Dorn is the CEO of Food Origins, Salinas, CA, an early-stage startup that aims to change this reliance on the past.

After spending several years as the director of knowledge and innovation at a large berry supplier, Dorn became frustrated when he couldn’t readily access enough data to support the value of his department’s functions. He realized the company didn’t have the right tools to innovate as fast as factory floor manufacturing or even row crop farming could.

Eventually, he struck out on his own and hopes to show that precise, accurate, and innovated data collection and data science, applied to the manual labor of producing crops, can be as big a gamechanger as it has been in other industries.

Dorn believes the numbers make his case: labor for handpicked crops has been diminishing at a rate of 10 percent a year over the past decade. Employers say their workforce is getting older, with labor costs representing half their expenditures, even with less work hours every year before overtime pay kicks in.

So Dorn looked to technology to help. He partnered with AT&T to produce better data for ERP management, then put wearable sensors on workers to manage and measure to a very precise degree their motions and patterns in the field. Next comes the collection and analysis of this data and finding partners who can use it to make a difference in their businesses.

Though Dorn concedes collecting the data can be both complicated and difficult, he says produce companies are beginning to catch on and see the value.

“The only way to make their labor process better is to measure—at a very detailed level with different labor forces in different areas with a huge amount of data—how workers move and what work they do,” he said.

Doing so builds out any number of value propositions, Dorn said, impacting everything from basic productivity and workflow to safety, quality, and time to market.

The right application of data, he said, can save companies millions of dollars in labor and equipment expenditures.

This is an excerpt from the most recent Produce Blueprints quarterly journal. Click here to read the full version.